Read part 1 here.
Our next move was to invade via river, so we sat on the road above the river bank and baked some more as old ladies on bicycles and young parents with strollers were ushered through the foot-wide space in the road where we all sat. As we sat on the hard ground worrying we all were going to pass out from dehydration or piss off the cops directing traffic, the battle raged on the opposite side of the river. Archers shot burning arrows into clumps of kerosene-soaked pine on the field, creating the illusion that the field was burning in the smoke of war. Others set off colored smoke flares. We waited.
Far on the other side of the battlefield, the spectators sat snapping pictures. Watching them watching all of us fight from the safety of the bleachers with their UV-blocking parasols, floppy hats, and bottles of Pocari Sweat seemed like some bizarre modern take on the First Battle of Bull Run, and, had we been stationed closer to the spectators who sat on our side of the river, I might have been tempted to raid some unsuspecting family’s store of liquid refreshments, citing Napoleon as justification. (だって、腹で行軍するんだぞ！)
Sometime during my fever-dream of confiscating Pocari Sweat and a parasol at sword-point, the torches—really more like flares tied to big sticks—were passed out. We decided who would lead the charge and how, but there was still no signal. I was champing at the bit to get in that river. I felt like I was roasting alive, and that river was going to be paradise. Finally, we got the signal to charge, and someone decided that would be a good time to light the torches. I was stationed in the back of the second line, and the wind blew the smoke back into our faces before the first line of defense had even left. I tried to cover my nose and mouth with my arm guards, but I had inhaled some of it already. The passersby parted like the Red Sea as the lot of us stood there choking on the smoke. Then our line started to move.
Running and still coughing to beat the band, we charged across a shallow part of the river. Although I was worried about tripping and completely falling in, the river felt even more amazing than I could have imagined. The torch-bearer in front of me fell as he was climbing up the bank. Boots full of water, I made it across the river only to start coughing from the kerosene-and-pine smoke filling the air on the grounds before I even had my sword out.
According to our plan, we of the Foreign Legion regrouped and formed a “flying V.” Screaming and hitting enemy soldiers anywhere we could get a shot in, we busted to the back of the enemy lines. When the formation fell apart, I tried to stick with my friends, but I soon found myself fighting alone. The women and high-school boys on the other team whom I fought were still not fighting back hard enough, and the way I “killed” them was always the same—strike, block, stab in the solar plexus. I’m sure intimidation was a big factor—having been in martial arts back in the proverbial day, I had no problem straight-up screaming at people as I struck them. The reactions the other army and the spectators had had to us foreign samurai during the drills were nothing compared to the looks of “what the HELL” that I got fighting on the field.
After fighting for a while, I found myself face to face with a man in a helmet. Helmets indicated rank in this battle, and so I wasn’t sure if I were allowed to “kill” this guy—we weren’t technically allowed kill the commanders, and I had no idea how high up this guy was on the food chain. I figured, well, if I have to die, at least it’ll be by the sword of an officer. At the same time, I wasn’t about to go down without a fight. Unlike the ten or so foot-soldiers and spear-bearers I had “mortally wounded,” this guy was actually skilled with a sword. We blocked and parried for about five minutes, but he refused to kill me. We both were looking for a way out—either we had to give up or he had to kill me or we were going to doing this all day. We ended up shaking on it, hilariously.
The field was absolute chaos. Although I could still see, the smoke was still thick from the ninjas dashing around and lighting more of the pine on fire to keep the effect going. More than once, one of my own soldiers almost attacked me. People were starting to fall left and right. After taking down some more foot soldiers, I found myself alone around the back of the lines, where I came across a gaggle of high-school girls. This is not good, I thought. I didn’t think I’d survive taking on three people at once. Fortunately for me, these girls were all trying to avoid fighting and had no idea what they were doing with their swords. Call me ruthless, but if you’re going to participate in a mock battle, you should at least make an attempt to defend yourself. I went into a defensive stance with my sword raised, and while they were busy crying “How scary!”, I took out each one of them in turn with a shot to the chest. They were by far my easiest kills of the battle. At that point, their spear-man boyfriend, who was my next target, decided to defend their honor by fighting me. Unfortunately, he actually knew how to use a spear (a long stick with the rounded tip painted silver), and while I was able to block the spear with my sword as he jabbed at my shins, I was unprepared when he swung the back end of it up and hit me square in the jaw. I assume it was by accident since face shots were not allowed, but, somewhere in between the shock of taking a “spear” to the face and the concession that, yeah, a spear to the face would probably count as a critical hit, I fell.
You know how in war films there’s usually a shot of the battlefield from the perspective of a downed soldier? Lying on my side, I looked up at the sky and at the other fallen participants. Someone behind me said, “彼女は死んだ？” (“She’s dead?”). In a weird way, it was almost peaceful just to lie in the grass under the clear sky, and so I remained that way until the commanders called the dead to rise.
As we walked off the field, my friends and I posed for pictures with excited spectators who had swarmed the field. I was still violently coughing between photos—the fires still weren’t extinguished, and the field was as smoky as ever. We posed under the cherry blossoms and took photos until the event staff shooed us back toward the school. Exhausted, thirsty, and a little sunburnt, we returned to the school, where the volunteers peeled the wet armor off of us.
The after-effects of the battle were strange. The three of us couldn’t stop coughing that night, and my cough from the kerosene smoke lingered for a couple days. We had marks on our calves from where our armor had been tied on a little too tightly. My sword-hip was bruised from the scabbard, and, although I didn’t have a mark there, my jaw was tender from where I took the spear to the face. But I felt like I had accomplished something.
I can’t say I’m a particularly skilled poet, so to make up for my unskilled death poem, here is Uesugi Kenshin’s as well.
These forty-nine years of my life have passed like a single night’s dream; the splendor of a lifetime like a single cup of sake.
In this life, I was born a woman. But a strong heart knows no distinction of sex.