Yoritoshi of the Minomoto had never seen battle, but his speech to his troops on the fifth day of the eleventh month during the Former Nine Year War was as inspirational as a seasoned commander of a thousand battles. The hearts of the rank and file were gripped in fear knowing their enemy to be savage veterans going against they who were green and raw with an untested leader. While it is true no samurai should fear death, he should fear throwing his life away in a futile gesture.
The ultimate goal, of course, is to win.
"And win we shall!" cheered Yoritoshi to a disbelieving audience. "What is there in life but the sharpness of the blade and the gift of having purpose? It's not an enemy we fight against, it's for the Emperor we fight, for ourselves! Why even be alive if it is without the worship of our women? We shall attain victory by slaying defeat!"
If nothing else, Yoritoshi's infectious enthusiasm soothed the burning hearts of his men and now having their attention, he wooed them into battle. "Is not the battlefield our true home? It is our escape from the drudgery of the ordinary. What man has made a name for himself drawing daily water from the stream? It's in showing himself his name becomes a part of history. Join history and your name lives forever in fame!"
The samurai unleashed an instinctive cheer into the crisp night, their faces half lit by the surrounding fires. They could see Yoritoshi was utterly without fear and a certain awe dawned upon them that they rode with a Man Of Destiny.
"Who is our enemy but us? Do they have more arms or legs? Have they twenty fingers or three eyes? Perhaps they see us as new and weak, thinking our swords somehow slice less easily than theirs. Steel is steel, my friends! I pray they learn that lesson well! I, for one, do not doubt my steel. Do you doubt yours? I see no doubt! I am a winner!"
A triumphant roar answered the commander, his men on their feet chanting and pounding with their spears. Like a switch that had been flipped, it was the enemy of the morrow they now pitied. What fools they had been, defeated before even entering the field. Yoritoshi had opened their eyes, the mettle within controls the metal from without. Yes, they shall bear their swords without hesitation, looking their opponents directly in the eye.
"Remember, a brave man can defeat a thousand cowards for the coward does not own his mind!"
Yoritoshi's steely-eyed shock troops waylaid their enemy, surprising them with an unexpected aggressiveness. "Who are these devils!" one warrior was heard to cry out and from then on they were known as Yoritoshi's Devils. As they were dispatched by the court to rural districts to tamp down rebellion, it was the red armor clad Devils who defeated their enemy before battle had even begun. All the while their leader, the samurai god Yoritoshi, had not suffered so much as a scratch.
But far to the northeast in the Kwanto region lay a devil of another sort. Takagi - who had a reputation of his own - wondered of these Devils and were they as fearsome as they sounded. He'd always carried of philosophy of carrying fear into battle for both him and and his men. That's what made you sharp and kept you aware. But Yoritoshi's Devils had abandoned all fear and as of yet their New Way had yet to be defeated.
Which man was the man of ego and which man the man of reality?
Takagi - like the warlords who were to eventually unify the country centuries later - knew that he who lies to himself least is the one who wins the war. He never forgot the words of an ex stage actor who told him that once his fear of performing vanished, so had his talent. This confirmed the voices that told him the beating heart must have fear to reach the greatest heights.
Though revered, Takagi's men viewed battle as a duty and a chore, relishing only the preservation of their independent way of life. This gave them the quiet gravitas of having faced certain truths, allowing them to bond as a unit in battle, thinking and acting as one as each warrior knew the mind of the other. But these Devils of Yoritoshi, had they surpassed Takagi's thinking? Each side was about to find out as the Emperor declared the rebel Takagi must be defeated once and for all.
This would be the battle to put Yoritoshi into the history books. Takagi had long been a thorn in the Emperor’s side, defeating all comers. To Takagi and his men the ruling powers that be had not earned the karma to rightly rule so they saw no reason to forego their crops to a meaningless court. The nobles lived in daily outrage over this stance and the seeming merit Takagi's victories gave to it. But now with Yoritoshi and his Devils, the scales would be balanced at last!
Coming down out of the mountains of Kai and seeing the fertile plains of the Kwanto for the first time, Yoritoshi knew his destiny would be cemented on these lands. Had he known of Alexander and Caesar, he'd have considered himself a god such as they. Yoritoshi was about to pass from being a mere warlord to that of being a legend. He could sense the feelers of Takagi reaching out to him as his horse stomped upon Takagi land but "that washed up old man has never seen anything like my Devils!"
It was a day of clear sunshine on the twelfth day of the fourth month when Yoritoshi became a name for all time. The two forces allied themselves in opposing formations, Yoritoshi's men eager and excited, Takagi's men eager to get it over with. When the battle began, Yoritoshi did not merely send in one section of his troops as was customary but went all in a wildly aggressive overwhelming attack. The Takagi forces had no choice but to give up ground.
To Yoritoshi that meant defeat for Takagi, just a matter of time before the enemy lost heart as had happened before. He watched as the Takagi forces skillfully reformed defensive postures but laughed at the thought it would do them any good. Yoritoshi dreamed of the courtly rewards to come, perhaps to marry into the nobility and have his lineage blessed forevermore. A rude interruption shattered his dream.
"Sir, the enemy has sent a rogue force directly upon our headquarters!"
"Do not be fooled by this desperate trick. Defeat this last attack and the day will be won."
"But sir, we cannot leave your side!"
"Attack, I say! I fear nothing!"
But these were the Takagi special forces, as razor sharp as their katanas, acting with a precision and focus that blunted the blind, unquestioning aggression of the Devils. They cut their way into Yoritoshi's compound but Yoritoshi knew he could not leave in the face of his enemy. He let out a loud yell brandishing his blade only to find himself cut deeply on his left arm and leg.
"I'm sliced! I'm sliced!"
His men turned to him for their orders but all Yoritoshi could muster was, "I did not know I could be hurt!"
And like that in the twinkling of an eye, Yoritoshi and his entire brigade collapsed. As if a communal signal had been sent out, the Devils' confidence snapped seeing an opponent who refused to break. They had been winning the day but suddenly it seemed to them they had been losing all along. Takagi's men gained the advantage, their energy insurmountable as a tidal wave. Yoritoshi ran off, his troops routed, shattered with the realization he'd been living a lie.
CODA: The royal court, ashamed at having put faith in Yoritoshi, never spoke of him again. An outcast in the capital with no place to go, Yoritoshi never returned, instead dying in the snows of Echigo as a beggar. Forever afterwards, whenever a warrior spoke with bravado without reflecting the realities of war, he was mocked with "having the bravery of Yoritoshi", as a man who looked at only half the picture.
Takagi never knew defeat in his lifetime. It came to be realized he was the true patriot of the land and not the false court of royalty which was to lose all power in the following decades. Many are those who believe Takagi was reincarnated four centuries later as one of the three great unifiers of Japan, when the time to be "ruled under one sword" finally arrived.