"Took you long enough!" I shouted at the woman behind Nakano-san as she alighted from the horse. We had been waiting for days for reinforcements to arrive in the frontlines near Aizu-Bange. Most of the men were either gutted, bombed or shot to death and to hang on tenaciously gave each man standing beside myself a ghastly look.
"Shut up! We had to regroup at Kurokawa-jo and the women needed more naginatas (halberds) and katanas!"
"Bah! Excuses excuses!" I threw her a rifle and motion her to a dugout where most of the men were at, to avoid the cannons and bullets that zipped right past us. I watched her as she situated herself by the stinking men and the nauseating corpse just slightly to her left before deciding to place myself between Yaeko and -the- corpse.
"Saitou-san we'll take to the walls behind the right and the others to the left of the trees, then we'll attack from there."
I nodded respectfully to Nakano-san, having heard of her reputation as a very brave woman who organized the Roushi-gun. I raised my hand to the captain to indicate that it would be a good idea. The enemy was head-on and we were at a stale-mate on who would move first. Of course the Meiji imperial army could just stay where they are and shoot at us from this distance, and yes they were definitely doing so. But it would be good to have a three point attack just in case they decide to advance. If not then we would have no choice but to charge in a few days, depending on our casualties. It would not be the best choice being severely outnumbered but that would be inevitable in the next few days.
I looked at my rifle and the katana to my side. The whistle of the artillery before it concludes with a loud bang, is now nothing more than the sound of an annoying chicada.
"How are things at the castle?" I turn and ask Yaeko, noting something quite different with her. I wonder if the lost of the Nagaoka castle has dimmed her spirit? No... There is no lost look and yet there is something definitely different.
"Most of the townsfolk have taken to arms. Yamakawa-san and Namuzawa-san, has organized a few men to fight and the others at the Itto-ryu dojo has started to train those who do not know how to fight. Yamakawa-san is really quite a bright man, not that -you- know him... He's been smuggling samurais into Aizu to help beef up reinforcements!"
She smiled slightly and I give her an approving look, grinning slightly at the mention of Yamakawa Hiroshi, he has been a student of my father a long time ago when we used to visit here in Aizu. It even came to the point that he would visit the Edo dojo just to spar with him. The last time I spoke with him though was at my Genpuku many years ago. Time seemed to have just flown by for all of us. Connections in Aizu has always been one of it's strengths, perhaps that is why I am seeing a rather bizzare event where every townsfolk has taken arms. In one way or another they are all connected.
"I guess it wouldn't surprise you the crass man that you are, that the women are forming another brigade like ours." She finally finished with a 'huff' in her voice.
"Of course it's your home. You better fight for it." I replied back indifferently to hide the pleasantness that seemed to be overwhelming my senses at the moment.
"Feh! and why are you fighting here, aren't you from Edo? You could go back there and get a reprieve and change your name -again-"
I look back at her incredulously and frowned. "I am now and always will be Saitou Hajime, Yaeko-san
. And I have decided this is now my home. It's not much different I practically grew up here and those men in the Itto-ryu dojo are practically -my- brothers as are the Shinsengumi who fought for Kyoto and now fighting for Aizu -elsewhere-.
"I thought Hijikata was with Enamoto-san in Hokkaido?" She shot me a puzzled look.
Another cannon ball zipped pass us landing just a few feet away shattering a nearby tree. i look towards it then back to yaeko.
"Those ahous! Wait till they get just a tad closer and I will gut them like I did at tenma-ya.' I cursed.
"Again why the hell is Hijikata not here?!" She pulled on my ear.
"The same reason as with the Kyokuchou Yaeko-san.
I shake my head in annoyance.
"He left because just like the Kyokuchou, he has other things to do like stop this war, or get us away from it! And if you -must- know he is indeed in Hokkaido with Enamoto fighting."
"And he has left you here as a token boy." She chuckled bitterly. I turned to her, grabbing her wrist and pinned her to the ground. While the others watched us stupefied.
"Saitou-san don't fight between yourselves!" They shouted back at us.
"Shut up ahou! This woman needs a good beating!" I glared at them as they started to crawl to get to us.
She spat at my face and i wiped it off.
"Admit it! The Shinsengumi left us, leaving us with a few of their inept men, just like -you- to be a token boy, so that Matsudaira himself will not be angered."
My fist curled up into a ball and readied myself to strike. She spat at my face again. Damn it!
Fully intent to strike her face, I burrowed my hand as she turned her cheek. A woman... She is a woman...
Slightly, just ever so slightly I shifted my wrist just enough to miss and let my fist land towards the dirt beside her cheek.
"Do not insult the Daimyo nor the -Shisengumi- again, you have no right to judge us."
"Feh! I have every right to be judgmental! You have not seen your own townsfolk, women and children gut their own stomach because they cannot fight! Because they thought that with them being alive, the provisions for who fought would be depleted! If -you- and the Shogunate were able to keep things together in Kyoto then there would be no reason for the Aizu-han to suffer! There would be no need to fight a losing war! '
Shoving her back towards the dirt, I grip my katana and leaned across from her. The men and women who had tried to get to us earlier, fell back in silence wide eyed. I myself, looked back at them. How many of these people thought this way about our work? What would Kondou-san and Hijikata-san say to these people? Even i had no answers...
Letting go of my katana, I chose to pick up the rifle. If I'm going to fight... I might as well win... and although it is not my weapon of choice, winning is essential at this point, to -clear- our name again. There's no hope nor opportunity to clean it in Kyoto but maybe here and I could finally vindicate myself for letting the Kyokuchou die. I cannot give my life story to these people on why Aizu is important to myself. I do not have the time nor the capacity and if it means I put my pride aside for -now-, then so be it.
I grinned right at her, the most fakest grin I could muster.
"You look different." I said with a smug look on my face.
"Feh. I always thought the shinsengumi were lasivcious.'
I smirked even wider this time. There is no use letting this woman get to me. "The hair?"
"Yes I had someone cut it for me."
"I thought Aizu women valued their hair and would never cut it like a man does."
"It's a statement you idiot!"
I shrugged. Of course I -knew- that, even Okita shaved his head once for a statement. It was the women who never cut their hair, they only held it back in different sorts or whatever they do to it.
"Who cut it?"
"A good friend."
I roll my eyes at her. "Do you have to make everything -difficult-?"
"With you yes... But if you -must- know! Her name was Takagi Tokio."
I quirked up my eyebrow, Takagi? I have heard of a certain Takagi who was a direct retainer of the Daimyo. Rumors though was that he was an obstinate man. I could learn a bit more about yaeko and figure out how to push this woman's buttons if i find more about her -later-. "Where is she?"
"Back at the castle."
"Interesting..." I could not picture Yaeko being acquainted with a woman who do not share her 'constitution'. Even the women in the roushi-gun were all similar in certain ways. "If this Tokio did not come here to fight, why did you give her the honor of cutting your hair?" I ruffle the hair on top of her head. "And what the hell is she doing hiding in the castle?"
"Oh you really are an idiot!' She fumed and hit me on the chest.
Another loud crash is heard towards my right, I take a quick look and see that it had landed too close and covered one man with dirt. Is he still alive? i look past yaeko and see a few women dig him out.
"Not everyone is the same you baka! Ideals shared are different, and there are those who can fight and those who can't. Just like you can't have everyone be followers nor leaders. Although i don't think of her in the same manner. She's more reserved and that's just the way it is, although i see her spirit sometimes... in other things."
"Why should i tell you? Can't you at least focus for once?" She motioned at the corpse lying beside me and rolled her eyes.
I grinned wickedly at her at how much prejudice she had towards -my- kind.
"Answer the question Yaeko."
"Again, we're just different and things like this now might not be what is for her. However there are things I think that will suit her in the future, when it is more peaceful and -that- is why I am here, to give the people of aizu a chance for that change."
There are many people whom i have met, even in times when all we could do is try to avoid being killed. There are times when you see through someone who hates you and they see through you as well, although in this case it is more of the former than the latter. Yaeko is a stubborn woman otherwise she won't be commissioned in the Aizu Women's brigade but I have always admired stubborness and tenacity, if she had been more of a lady i would actually go after her or maybe perhaps if she wasn't such a strong woman... Perhaps i am more conventional in that way, I prefer to be the man who is needed at times. Of course I would never tie myself up with a woman who is clingy enough to hamper my freedom. That would be a disaster i suppose. But the only thing I can truly say for sure is that I will never be with someone who did not understand nor supported what we had fought for in the Shinsengumi and did not accept what I have done and intend to do. To that effect these women here, it is in them that I find things to admire and respect, as women. In peaceful times, perhaps my views will change and what Yaeko says about this person will make sense. But if this Tokio is a good friend of Yaeko and she is not here fighting, that is interesting indeed. For now, these thoughts must be pushed to the side. The constant whistling and cracks of artillery are nothing more than a reminder to that fact.
"Tell Nakano-san that she should wear a breast plate and you should too. That change that you speak of, make sure you don't get killed before you see it.' I tell her as she struck me again on the chest with her bare fist.
(OOC: Mostly a historical account. Of course not the conversation.. But Saitou did fight with Yaeko in the front lines and there was indeed a Roushigun (Aizu women samurai - also known as joshitai?). Note that Tokio and Saitou did not really meet in the Battle of Aizu at least in this version, they probably did in history just in passing... This version of the wolf disappeared after Aizu surrendered to the Meiji and went to Hokkaido and got captured and put in a refugee settlement in Aomori, it's a deviation from history [sorry i'm just this way, I have no historical discipline!]. All the people mentioned were historical figures etc. etc. but perhaps not the circumstace surrounding his father/Hiroshi and Yaeko's anger towards the Shinsengumi. A good source of reading for the Aizu war would be: The Aizu War: A Testament of Shiba Goro)