“All advance with the exception of three to guard their banner.”
“Now that we know, you five shall remain here,” decided Takaro, pointing to the men hidden behind the trees. Turning to Mekai and the three other warriors crouched behind the brambles of a red berry shrub: “You four shall take control of the banner. Give yourselves a wide berth advancing from the north and wait for my instructions to move in.”
“What of the rest of us?” asked Hemashe, in a hushed tone.
Pointing to the two young warriors that had just returned from the scouting mission, she selected the smallest, most agile of them. “You shall hide in that tree. Position yourself where the moon shall be directly behind you. As the enemy advances past these five men, you shall draw their attention. Make sure their eyes are directed to the moon,” instructed Takaro.
“Ha! I know what you are planning,” smiled the warrior, as he nodded in approval.
“Good! Once they have caught an eyeful of the bright moon, then you,” said Takaro pointing to the other warrior, “shall draw them away; act as a decoy. You will lure them away as though you plan to advance from the south. Once you have their attention, turning away from the bright moon to the darkness of the forest will temporarily blind them as they begin their pursuit.”
“And then we shall attack,” added Hemashe, nodding in understanding.
“Exactly! When the timing is right, once their group divides to pursue our decoy, we shall turn on them. As soon as we have them secured, be prepared to advance.”
“And what shall you and Hemashe be doing at this time?” asked Mekai in a dismissive tone, now realizing that Takaro may indeed have a workable plan.
“Hemashe and I shall create a diversion that will allow you and the others to advance in order to seize the banner.”
“What is this diversion you speak of?” queried Mekai, his eyes full of suspicion.
“You will see soon enough, just be sure that once I am done, no matter what you see or hear, you and the others move quickly and silently. Each one of you shall dispatch one of their three guards, while the fourth shall capture their banner. Take the banner and be off. Do not tip the enemy off that you have it, for you must still run the gauntlet to return to our camp,” instructed Takaro. “No gloating that you have their banner. Is that understood, Mekai?”
Hemashe and the others glared at the young man to make sure, in no uncertain terms, he would comply with this order.
“Understood,” conceded Mekai, with a grumble as he and the others rose to their feet.
“Good! As for the rest of you, remain hidden until the enemy has passed,” instructed Takaro. “Be prepared to run. Do not look to the moon when the commotion begins. Just run, silently and quickly!”
All nodded in understanding as Takaro’s sharp ears detected the movements of the advancing enemy. She motioned all to remain silent and still.
As the shadowy figures crept with great stealth through the stand of trees, Takaro could see that Keodai had indeed sent forth almost his entire battalion with the exception of the three left to guard the banner. He planned to overpower Takaro’s team with sheer numbers before they neared their camp.
Overhead, the subtle rustling of leaves high above drew the attention of the opposing team members. Glancing upward, their pupils contracted as the cold glow of the moon filled their eyes with its bright light as they searched the crown of the tree for the source of this noise.
“Up there! Look!” announced one warrior. His finger pointed to a figure crouched high on the branch.
“So what do we have here?” asked Keodai, his eyes squinting at the figure silhouetted again the round, fat moon. “Your attempt to hide is rather futile. Why not come down and surrender? You know there is nowhere to run.”
The treed warrior suddenly shouted, gesturing for his comrade to run, motioning him to dash southward.
The young warrior, already slinking toward a bamboo grove proceeded to noisily crash through the vegetation as though he was not one, but many, advancing to the enemy camp.
“Get them!” ordered Keodai, signaling five warriors to begin the pursuit.
“I cannot see!” shouted one warrior, blinking hard as the harsh light of the moon continued to dance before him like a bright apparition.
One warrior stumbled over another as he rubbed his eyes in an attempt to vanquish these smears of light.
“Damn it all!” cursed Keodai. “We have been duped.”
Their pupils wreaked havoc with their night vision as the phantom specter of the moon continued to fill their eyes, temporarily blinding the men as the cold, celestial rays burned into their retinas. Takaro motioned for Mekai to begin his advance from the north with his three men. The warrior nodded in understanding before they dissolved into the dark shadows.
“They are getting away! Follow them!” shouted Keodai, urging five warriors southward. Shaking his head in disgust, he watched as they stumbled blindly into the darkness.
As his eyes slowly adjusted, he waved the others onward. Keodai forged ahead with the rest of his men, unaware that members of his party were under assault. Takaro, Hemashe and the others took from behind the last four stragglers, still blinking hard to refocus their eyes. Emerging from the shadows, with folded cloth in one hand, they quickly engulfed the faces of their prey, denying them both sight and sound in an instant. Their cries for help stifled, Takaro and her comrades attacked pressures points to effectively subdue them further.
Keodai turned to order his men to advance with greater speed, but to his dismay, his ranks were thinned. Only seven remained.
“Those fools! I suppose they took after the other five,” grumbled Keodai, waving his comrades on to follow him.
With the opposing team moving on, after securing their prisoners, Takaro whispered her instructions for the five remaining warriors to hunt down Keodai’s men, those in pursuit of their decoy. Without a word, the men slipped into the shadows of the forest to carry out her order.
“Follow me,” whispered Takaro, as she led Hemashe in a straight line that would take them directly to the enemy camp. He followed, attempting to move with her speed and stealth.
As they entered a clearing, the white banner fluttered in the distance. Around it stood three guards, keeping a watchful eye.
“Now what?” asked Hemashe, his words spoken in a hush. He watched Takaro as she re-laced her leather boot before advancing.
“Just stay close,” she whispered.
Before he could say another word, Takaro leapt up, charging toward the enemy line. The three young men posted to guard their banner immediately braced themselves for the attack. She laughed inwardly as her eyes made out their silhouettes, watching as all three relaxed upon seeing that it was she and only one other warrior.
“What is your plan, Takaro?” Hemashe asked again, as he rushed to her side. “Tell me you have a plan!”
“Just follow me!” she ordered.
They were running headlong toward the enemy when Takaro cried out as she fell hard. As though her foot had caught on an unseen tree root protruding from the ground, she flew forward, rolling over her shoulder and landing with a hard ‘thud’!
As the three warriors rushed in to capture Takaro and her comrade, Hemashe scrambled to her side as she writhed in pain, clutching her ankle.
“Let me see, Takaro,” said Hemashe, pushing her hand away.
He gasped when he saw the sheen of wet blood in the moonlight and the strange protrusion jutting against the leather of her boot.
“She is hurt! Takaro is hurt!” called Hemashe, as the three men slowed their advance, approaching with great caution. As he touched her ankle, his hand instantly recoiled as she screamed out in pain.
“What happened?” asked one warrior, huddling over Hemashe to see.
“Is it not obvious? She has broken her ankle! Look at the blood! Look at that bone!” groaned Hemashe, as he grimaced in sympathy.
Another warrior stooped for a closer look. “This is not good! Remove her boot!”
Hemashe loosened her bootlace, but as he took hold of it, Takaro screamed out in pain, swatting the young man across his head.
“Owww!” shouted Hemashe, cringing from this assault.
“That was nothing! How do you think I am feeling!” snarled Takaro.
“We must get help! We must find Master Saibon!” shouted one of the young men, his concern mounting. “Can you stand, Takaro?”
“I can try,” she answered with a groan.
Hemashe and the warrior helped to steady Takaro on one leg, her arms around their shoulders for support.
“Hemashe, I will assist you with delivering Takaro back for help. Tisai, you run ahead, fetch Master Saibon. Ask him to meet us,” ordered Megoto, the leader of this small group. He turned to the last warrior with final instructions to guard the banner until he returned while Tisai crashed through the forest with utmost urgency in a bid to locate Yaruke Saibon.
Hemashe and Megoto struggled to assist Takaro. Being shorter than both the young men in her company, it was becoming difficult for her to hobble along on one foot. She clung to their shoulders as they stooped awkwardly to support her.
“This is taking much too long, Takaro,” decided Hemashe. He suddenly scooped her up in his arms. “I will carry you.”
“This is not necessary. I can walk,” insisted Takaro, squirming in protest.
“Well, you are not doing a very good job of it,” commented Megoto. “Allow Hemashe to help you.”
“I am too heavy to be carried.”
“You are as light as a feather, Takaro. Now stop struggling!” demanded Hemashe.
“This is embarrassing!”
“Swallow your pride and allow him to assist you,” ordered Megoto. “Can you manage, Hemashe?”
“Yes, and you best get back to the game,” suggested Hemashe, holding Takaro in his arms.
“Can you walk with us just a little further?” pleaded the wounded warrior. “I fear Hemashe will tire soon and drop me.”
The warrior frowned at the young woman in his arms. “Are you saying that I am too weak to carry you?”
“No… I am saying I am too heavy,” argued Takaro.
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