Book: Taiko



Taiko

TAIKO: AN EPIC NOVEL OF WAR AND GLORY IN FEUDAL JAPAN

1 FIFTH YEAR OF TEMMON 1536

Characters and Places

Hiyoshi, childhood name of

Toyotomi Hideyoshi, the Taiko

Ofuku, adopted son of Sutejiro

Onaka, Hiyoshi's mother

Otsumi, Hiyoshi's sister

Kinoshita Yaemon, Hiyoshi's father

Chikuami, Hiyoshi's stepfather

Kato Danjo, Hiyoshi's uncle

Watanabe Tenzo, leader of a band

of masterless samurai

Sutejiro, pottery merchant

Hachisuka Koroku, head of the Hachisuka clan

Saito Dosan, lord of Mino

Saito Yoshitatsu, Dosan's son

Akechi Mitsuhide, retainer of the Saito clan

Matsushita Kahei, retainer of the Imagawa clan

Oda Nobunaga, lord of Owari

Kinoshita Tokichiro, name given to

Hiyoshi when he became a samurai

Shibata Katsuie, head of the Shibata clan

and senior Oda retainer

Hayashi Sado, senior Oda retainer

Owari, birthplace of Toyotomi Hideyoshi

and province of the Oda clan

Kiyosu, capital of Owari

Mino, province of the Saito clan

Inabayama, capital of Mino

Suruga, province of the Imagawa clan

"Monkey! Monkey!"

"It's my bee!"

"It's mine!"

"Liar!"

Seven or eight young boys swept across the fields like a whirlwind, swinging sticks  back and forth through the yellow mustard blossoms and pure-white radish flowers, looking for the bees with honey sacs, called Korean bees. Yaemon's son, Hiyoshi, was six years old, but his wrinkled face looked like a pickled plum. He was smaller than the other boys, but second to none among the village children when it came to pranks and wild behavior.

"Fool!" he yelled as he was knocked down by a bigger boy while fighting over a bee.  Before he could get to his feet, another boy stepped on him. Hiyoshi tripped him.

"The bee belongs to the one who caught it! If you catch it, it's your bee!" he said, nimbly jumping up and snatching a bee out of the air. "Yow! This one's mine!"

Clutching the bee, Hiyoshi took another ten steps before opening his hand. Breaking off the head and the wings, he popped it into his mouth. The bee's stomach was a sac of sweet honey. To these children, who had never known the taste of sugar, it was a marvel that anything could taste so sweet. Squinting, Hiyoshi let the honey run down his throat and smacked his lips. The other children looked on, their mouths watering.

"Monkey!" shouted a large boy nicknamed Ni'o, the only one for whom Hiyoshi no match. Knowing this, the others joined in.

"Baboon!"

"Monkey!"

"Monkey, monkey, monkey!" they chorused. Even Ofuku, the smallest boy, joined in. He was said to be eight years old, but he was not much bigger than the six-year old Hiyoshi. He was much better looking, however; his complexion was fair, and his eyes and nose were nicely set in his face. As the child of a wealthy villager, Ofuku was the only one who wore a silk kimono. His real name was probably something like Fukutaro or Fukumatsu, but it had been shortened and prefaced with the letter o in imitation of a practice common among the sons of wealthy families.

"You had to say it too, didn't you!" Hiyoshi said, glaring at Ofuku. He did not care when the other boys called him monkey, but Ofuku was different. "Have you forgotten that I'm the one who always sticks up for you, you spineless jellyfish!"

Thus chastened, Ofuku could say nothing. He lost courage and bit his nails. Although he was only a child, being called an ingrate made him feel much worse than being called a spineless jellyfish. The others looked away, their attention shifting from honey bees to a cloud of yellow dust rising at the far end of the fields. "Look, an army!" cried one of the boys. "Samurai!" said another. "They've come back from battle." The children waved and cheered.

The lord of Owari, Oda Nobuhide, and his neighbor, Imagawa Yoshimoto, were bitter enemies, a situation that led to constant skirmishing along their common border. One year, Imagawa troops crossed the border, set fire to the villages, and trampled the crops. The Oda troops rushed out of the castles of Nagoya and Kiyosu and routed the enemy, cutting them down to the last man. When the following winter came, both food and shelter were lacking, but the people did not reproach their lord. If they starved, they starved;  if they were cold, they were cold. In fact, contrary to Yoshimoto's expectations, their hardships only served to harden their hostility toward him.

The children had seen and heard about such things from the time they were born. When they saw their lord's troops, it was as if they were seeing themselves. It was in their blood, and nothing excited them more than the sight of men-at-arms.

“Let’s go see!

The boys headed toward the soldiers, breaking into a run, except for Ofuku and Hiyoshi, who were still glaring at one another. The weak-spirited Ofuku wanted to run with the others, but he was held by Hiyoshi's stare.

"I'm sorry." Ofuku nervously approached Hiyoshi's side and put his hand on his shoulder. "I'm sorry, all right?"

Hiyoshi flushed angrily and jerked away his shoulder, but seeing Ofuku on the brink tears, he softened. "It's just because you ganged up with the others and said bad things about me," he reproached him. "When they tease you, they always call you names, like : Chinese kid.' But have I ever made fun of you?"

"No."

"Even a Chinese kid, when he becomes a member of our gang, is one of us. That's what I always say, right?"

"Yeah." Ofuku rubbed his eyes. Mud dissolved in his tears, making little splotches around his eyes.

“Dummy! It's because you cry that they call you 'the Chinese kid.' Come on, let's go the warriors. If we don't hurry, they'll be gone." Taking Ofuku by the hand, Hiyoshi ran after the others.

War-horses and banners loomed out of the dust. There were some twenty mounted samurai and two hundred foot soldiers. Trailing behind was a motley group of bearers: pike, spear, and bow carriers. Cutting across the Inaba Plain from the Atsuta Road,  they began to climb the embankment of the Shonai River. The children outstripped the horses and scampered up the embankment. Eyes gleaming, Hiyoshi, Ofuku, Ni’o, and the other snotty-nosed kids picked roses and violets and other wildflowers and threw them in the air, all the time yelling at the top of their voices, "Hachiman! Hachiman!" invoking the god of war, and, "Victory for our valiant, glorious warriors!" Whether in the village or on the roads, the children were quick to yell this whenever they saw warriors.

The general, the mounted samurai, and the common soldiers dragging their feet were all silent, their strong faces set like masks. They did not warn the children about getting too close to the horses, nor did they favor them with so much as a grin. These troops  seemed to be part of the army that had withdrawn from Mikawa, and it was clear that the battle had been bitterly fought. Both horses and men were exhausted. Blood-smeared wounded leaned heavily on the shoulders of their comrades. Dried blood glistene black as lacquer, on armor and spear shafts. Their sweaty faces were so caked with dust that only their eyes shone through.

"Give the horses water," ordered an officer. The samurai on horseback passed the order along in loud voices. Another order went out to take a rest. The horsemen dismounted, and the foot soldiers stopped dead in their tracks. Breathing sighs of relief, they dropped wordlessly onto the grass.

Across the river, Kiyosu Castle looked tiny. One of the samurai was Oda Nobuhide’s younger brother, Yosaburo. He sat on a stool, gazing up at the sky, surrounded by half a dozen silent retainers.

Men bound up arm and leg wounds. From the pallor of their faces it was clear they had suffered a great defeat. This did not matter to the children. When they saw blood,  they themselves became heroes bathed in blood; when they saw the glitter of spears and pikes, they were convinced that the enemy had been annihilated, and they were filled with pride and excitement.

"Hachiman! Hachiman! Victory!"

When the horses had drunk their fill of water, the children threw flowers at them, too, cheering them on.

A samurai standing beside his horse spotted Hiyoshi and called, "Yaemon's son! How is your mother?"

"Who, me?"

Hiyoshi walked up to the man and looked straight up at him with his grimy face. With a nod, the man put his hand on Hiyoshi's sweaty head. The samurai was no more than twenty years old. Thinking this man had just come from battle, and feeling weight of the hand in its chain-mail gauntlet on his head, Hiyoshi was overwhelmed by a feeling of glory.

Does my family really know such a samurai? he wondered. His friends, who lined up nearby, watching him, could see how proud he was.

"You're Hiyoshi, aren't you?"

"Yes."

"A good name. Yes, a good name."

The young samurai gave Hiyoshi's head a final pat, then struck the waistband of his leather armor and straightened up a bit, studying Hiyoshi's face all the while. Something lade him laugh.

Hiyoshi was quick to make friends, even with adults. To have his head touched by a stranger—and a warrior at that—made his big eyes shine with pride. He quickly became his usual talkative self.

"But you know, nobody calls me Hiyoshi. The only ones who do are my mother and father."

"Because of what you look like, I suppose."

"A monkey?"

"Well, it's good that you know it."

"That's what everyone calls me."

"Ha, ha!" The samurai had a loud voice and a laugh to match. The other men joined the laughter, while Hiyoshi, trying to look bored, took a millet stalk from his jacket and began chewing on it. The grassy-smelling juice in the stalk tasted sweet.

He carelessly spat out the chewed-up stalk.

"How old are you?"

"Six."

"Is that so?"

"Sir, where are you from?"

"I know your mother well."

"Huh?"

"Your mother's younger sister often comes to my house. When you go home, give my regards to your mother. Tell her Kato Danjo wishes her good health."

When the rest break was over, the soldiers and horses got back in line and crossed the shallows of the Shonai River. With a backward glance, Danjo quickly mounted his horse.  Wearing his sword and armor, he radiated an air of nobility and power.

"Tell her that when the fighting's over, I'll be stopping by Yaemon's." Danjo gave a yell, spurred his horse, and entered the river's shallows to catch up with the line. White water lapped at his horse's legs.

Hiyoshi, remnants of the millet juice still in his mouth, gazed after him as if in a trance.

*    *    *

Every trip she made to the storage shed left Hiyoshi's mother sorely depressed. She went there to fetch pickles, grain, or firewood, and was always reminded that supplies often ran out. Thinking of the future brought a lump to her throat. There were only the children, Hiyoshi, six, and his nine-year-old sister, Otsumi—neither, of course, old enough to do any real work. Her husband, wounded in battle, was capable of nothing but sitting by the hearth and staring into the space beneath the hanging teakettle, even in summer when there was no fire.

Those things… I'd feel better if they were burned, she thought.

Leaning against a wall of the shed was a spear with a black oak shaft, above which hung a foot-soldier's helmet and what seemed to be part of an old suit of armor. In the days when her husband had gone off to battle, this equipment had been the best he had. It was now covered with soot and, like her husband, useless. Every time she looked at she felt nothing but disgust. The thought of war made her shudder.

No matter what my husband says, Hiyoshi is not going to become a samurai, she resolved.

At the time of her marriage to Kinoshita Yaemon, she had thought it best to pick samurai for a husband. The house in Gokiso where she was born, while small, was that of a samurai family, and although Yaemon was just a foot soldier, he was a retainer of Oda Nobuhide. When they had become husband and wife, vowing that "in the future, we’ll earn a thousand bushels of rice," the armor had been a symbol of their hopes and had taken precedence over the household goods she had wanted. There was no denying that it brought back happy memories of their marriage. But the contrast between their youthful dreams and the present was not worth a moment's thought. It was a curse eating away at her heart. Her husband had been crippled before he could distinguish himself in battle. Because he was no more than a foot soldier, he had been forced to leave his lord's service. Making a living had been difficult in the first six months, and he had ended up becoming a farmer. Now he was not even capable of that.

Help had come from a woman's hand. Taking the two children with her, Yaemon’s wife had picked mulberry leaves, plowed fields, threshed millet, and warded off poverty all these years. But what of the future? Wondering if the strength of her slender arms would hold out, her heart felt as cold and gloomy as the storage shed. Finally she put the food for the evening meal—millet, a few strips of dried radish—into a bamboo basket and left the storage shed. She was not yet thirty years old, but Hiyoshi's birth had not been an easy one, and ever since, her skin had been the pale color of an unripe peach.

"Mother." It was Hiyoshi's voice. He came around the side of the house, looking for her. His mother laughed softly. She had one bright hope: to bring up Hiyoshi and make him the kind of son and heir who would grow up quickly and be able to present her husband with at least a bit of sake every day. The thought made her feel better.

"Hiyoshi, I'm over here."

Hiyoshi ran toward his mother's voice, then took hold of the arm that held the basket.

"Today, at the riverbank, I met someone who knows you."

"Who?"

"A samurai! Kato something. He said he knew you, and he sent you his regards. He patted my head and asked me questions!"

"Well, that must be Kato Danjo."

"He was with a big group of warriors just coming back from a battle. He was riding a good horse, too! Who is he?"

"Well, Danjo lives near the Komyoji Temple."

"Yes?"

"He is engaged to my little sister."

"Engaged?"

'My, you're persistent!"

'But I don't understand."

'They're going to be married."

"What? You mean he's going to be my mother's little sister's husband?" Hiyoshi seemed satisfied, and laughed.

His mother, when she looked at his toothy, impudent grin, even though he was her own child, could only think of him as a precocious little brat.

“Mother, there's a sword about this big in the storage shed, isn't there?"

“There is. What do you want with it?"

“Won't you let me have it? It's all beat up, and Father doesn't use it anymore."

“Playing war games again?"

“It's all right, isn't it?"

“Absolutely not!"

“Why not?"

“What's going to happen if a farmer's son gets used to wearing a sword?"

“Well, one day I'm going to be a samurai." He stamped his foot like a spoiled child, thinking the matter closed. His mother glared at him, and her eyes filled with tears.

“Fool!" she scolded him, and, clumsily wiping away her tears, she pulled him along by the hand. "Just for a bit, try to be a help to your sister and draw some water." Dragging him along by force, she went back to the house.

“No! No!" Hiyoshi fought her, yelling and digging his heels into the dirt. "No! I hate you!  You're stupid! No!"

His mother pulled him along, imposing her will. Just then the sound of a cough, mixed with smoke from the hearth, came through the bamboo-screened window. When he heard his father's voice, Hiyoshi's shoulders shrank and he became silent. Yaemon was only about forty, but, condemned to spend his days as a cripple, he had the raspy, coughing voice of a man past fifty.

“I’ll tell your father you're giving me too much trouble," his mother said, loosening her grip. He covered his face with his hands and wiped his eyes as he cried softly.

Looking at this little boy who was too hard to handle, his mother wondered what was to become of him?

Onaka! Why are you shouting at Hiyoshi again? It's unbecoming. What business do you have fighting with your own child and crying like that?" asked Yaemon through the window, in the shrill voice of a sick man.

“You should scold him then," Onaka said reproachfully.

Yaemon laughed. "Why? Because he wants to play with my old sword?"

“Yes."

“He was just playing."

“Yes, and he shouldn't be doing that."

“He's a boy, and my son, too. Is it really so bad? Give him the sword!"

Onaka looked toward the window in amazement and bit her lip in frustration.

I won! Hiyoshi exulted, enjoying his victory, but only for a moment. As soon as he saw the tears streaming down his mother's pale cheeks, his victory felt hollow.

“Oh, stop crying! I don't want the sword anymore. I'll go help my sister." He ran off to the kitchen, where his sister was bent over, blowing into the clay oven through a bam­boo stalk to bring the firewood to life.

Hiyoshi bounded in, saying, "Hey, shall I fetch the water?"

"No, thank you," Otsumi answered, timidly looking up in surprise. Wondering what he was up to, she shook her head.

Hiyoshi lifted the lid off the water jar and peered inside. "It's already full. Shall I mash up the bean paste?"

"No! Don't be a bother!"

"A bother? All I want to do is help. Let me do something for you. Shall I fetch the pickles?"

"Didn't Mother go and get them just now?"

"Well, what can I do?"

"If you only behaved yourself, that'd make Mother happy."

"Why, aren't I behaving now? Is there a fire in the oven? I'll start it for you. Move over."

"I'm doing fine!"

"If you'd just move…"

"Look what you did! You put it out!"

"Liar! You're the one who put it out!"

"That's not so."

"Loudmouth!"

Hiyoshi, impatient with the firewood that wouldn't ignite, slapped his sister on the cheek. Otsumi cried loudly and complained to her father. Since they were next to the living room, very soon their father's voice thundered in Hiyoshi's ears.

"Don't hit your sister! It doesn't do for a man to hit women! Hiyoshi, come in here this minute!"

On the other side of the partition, Hiyoshi swallowed hard and glared accusingly at Otsumi. His mother came in and stood by the entrance, dismayed that this was happening yet again.

Yaemon was frightening, the most frightening father in the world. Hiyoshi did as he was told. He sat straight and looked up at his father.

Kinoshita Yaemon was sitting in front of the hearth. Behind him was the staff that he needed to use to walk. Without it he was unable to go anywhere, even to the toilet. His elbow rested on a wooden box that he used for spinning and collecting hemp, a sideline he worked at when he felt so inclined. Disabled though he was, he could help a little with the family finances.

"Hiyoshi!"

"Yes, sir?"

"Don't be a nuisance to your mother."

"Yes."

"And don't argue with your sister. Think of the impression you make. What should your conduct as a man be, and how should you behave toward women, who are to be protected?"

"Well, I-I didn't—"

Quiet! I have ears. I know where you are and what you're doing, even though I never leav e this room." Hiyoshi shuddered. He believed what his father was saying.

However, Yaemon could not repress the affection he felt for his only son. His own leg and arm could never be as they were before, but he believed that through this child his blood would go on for a hundred years. Then he looked at Hiyoshi again, and his mood changed. A father was supposed to be the best judge of his son, but even at his most optimistic, Yaemon could not see how this strange-looking, snotty-nosed little brat was going to rise above his parents and wash away the disgrace from their name. Still, Hiyoshi was his only son, and Yaemon rested impossible hopes in him. "The sword in the storage shed—do you want it, Hiyoshi?"

"Well…" Hiyoshi shook his head.

"You don't want it?"

"I want it, but…"

"Why don't you say so, then?"

"Mother said absolutely not."

"That's because women hate swords. Wait here."

Taking his staff, he limped into the other room. Unlike the house of a poor farmer,  this one had several rooms. Hiyoshi's mother's relatives had once lived here. Yaemon had relatives, but his wife had family in the neighborhood.

Hiyoshi had not been scolded, but he still felt uneasy. Yaemon returned, carrying a short sword wrapped in cloth. It was not the one rusting away in the storage shed.

"Hiyoshi, this is yours. Wear it whenever you like."

"Mine? Really?"

"But considering your age, I'd rather you didn't wear it in public. If you do, people laugh at you. Hurry and grow old enough so you can wear it and not make people laugh. Will you do that for me? Your grandfather had this sword made…." After a pause, Yaemon went on. His eyes were heavy, and he spoke slowly. "Your grandfather was a farmer. When he tried to raise his station in life and make something of himself, he had a swordsmith make this for him. We Kinoshita had a record of our family tree once, but it was destroyed in a fire. And long before your grandfather could accomplish anything, he was killed. Those were turbulent times, and many people suffered the same fate."

A lamp was lit in the next room, but the room they were in was brightened by the flame of the hearth. Hiyoshi listened to his father while staring at the red flames. Whether Hiyoshi understood or not, Yaemon felt that he could not speak of such things to his wife or daughter.

"If the Kinoshita family tree still existed, I could tell you about your ancestors, but it burned to ashes. There's a living family tree, though, and it's been transmitted to you. It is this." Yaemon stroked the blue veins in his wrist. Blood.

This was his teaching. Hiyoshi nodded, then grasped his own wrist. He had such blood vessels in his own body, too. There could be no doubt! No family tree was more alive than this.

'I don't know who our ancestors were before your grandfather's time, but I'm sure that some of them were great men. I suppose there were samurai, maybe scholars. The blood of such men continues to flow, and it's been transmitted from me to you."

"Yes." Hiyoshi nodded again.

"However, I'm not great. In the end I'm just a cripple. Therefore, Hiyoshi, you must become a great man!"

"Father," Hiyoshi said, opening his eyes wide, "to become great, what kind of man should I become?"

"Well, there's no limit to what you can achieve. If, at the very least, you become a courageous warrior and wear this keepsake from your grandfather, I'll have no regrets when I die."

Hiyoshi said nothing, looking confused. He lacked self-confidence, and he avoided his father's stare.

After all, it's only natural—he's a child, Yaemon thought, noticing his son's unworthy reaction. Maybe it's not in the blood after all, but in the surroundings. And his heart flooded over with grief.

Hiyoshi's mother had prepared their evening meal and was waiting silently in the corner for her husband to finish his talk. Her thoughts and her husband's were completely at odds. That her husband would push the child to become a samurai was hateful to her. She prayed silently for Hiyoshi's future. This is such an unreasonable thing to say to a child. Hiyoshi, your father speaks such words out of bitterness, she wanted to say. It would be wrong for you to follow in his footsteps. If you are a fool, then be a fool, but please become a farmer, even if you only have one small plot of land. Aloud she said, "Well, let's eat. Hiyoshi and Otsumi, come a little closer to the hearth." Starting with the children's father, she passed around the chopsticks and bowls.

Even though it was their usual meal—a bowl of thin millet soup—every time Yaemon looked at it, he felt a bit sadder, because he was a father who could not satisfy the needs of wife and children. Hiyoshi and Otsumi took up their bowls, their cheeks and noses turning red, and they sucked up the food with gusto, hardly thinking of it as poor at all. For them, there was no wealth beyond this.

"There's the bean paste we got from the master of the pottery shop at Shinkawa, and there are dried vegetables and dried chestnuts in the storage shed, so both Otsumi and Hiyoshi should eat a lot," Onaka said, wanting to reassure her husband about money matters. She herself did not pick up her chopsticks until her children had full stomachs and her husband had finished eating. Once the evening meal was over, they went to bed. It was pretty much the same in every other house. No lights shone in Nakamura after nightfall.

When darkness fell, footsteps could be heard scurrying across the fields and along the roads—the sounds of nearby battles. Ronin, fugitives, and messengers on secret missions all liked to travel at night.

Hiyoshi often had nightmares. Was it that he heard footsteps in the dead of night, or did the struggle for mastery over the land fill his dreams? That night he kicked Otsumi, who lay next to him on the sleeping mat, and when she cried out in surprise, he yelled, "Hachiman! Hachiman! Hachiman!"

Jumping up from the mat, he was instantly alert, and even though he was calmed by his mother, he remained half-awake and elated for a long time.

"It's a fever. Burn some moxa powder on his neck," Yaemon advised.

Hiyoshi's mother answered, "You shouldn't have shown him that sword, or told him stories about his ancestors."

*  *  *

The following year, the house was visited by a great change: Yaemon fell sick and died. Looking upon his dead father's face, Hiyoshi did not cry. At the funeral, he hopped and jumped around playfully.

In the autumn of Hiyoshi's eighth year, crowds of guests came to the house again. They spent the night making rice cakes, drinking sake, and singing. One of his relatives told Hiyoshi, "The groom is going to become your new father. He was once a friend of Yaemon's and also served the Oda clan. His name is Chikuami. You must be a good son to him, too."

Eating his rice cake, Hiyoshi went and peeked inside. His mother had made up her face and looked unusually pretty. She was with an older man he did not know, her eyes cast down. When he saw this, he became happy. "Hachiman! Hachiman! Throw flowers!" shouted Hiyoshi, who enjoyed himself more than anyone else that night.

Summer came around again. The corn grew high. Every day Hiyoshi and the other village children would swim naked in the river, and catch and eat the little red frogs in the fields. The meat of the red frog was even tastier than the honey sac of the Korean bee. Hiyoshi's mother had taught him about eating the frogs. She said they were a medicine children's disorders, and ever since then they had become his favorite food. It seemed that every time he was playing, Chikuami would come looking for him. Monkey! Monkey!" called his stepfather.

Chikuami was a hard worker. In less than a year he had put the family finances in order, and the days of hunger had gone. If Hiyoshi was in the house, he was always given chores to do from morning till night. If he was lazy or naughty, Chikuami's huge hand soon landed on his head. Hiyoshi hated this beyond endurance. He did not mind the work, but he tried to avoid attracting his stepfather's eye, even for a moment. Every day, without fail, Chikuami would take an afternoon nap. As soon as he could, Hiyoshi slipped out of the house. But before long Chikuami would go to fetch him back, shouting "Monkey! Where's our monkey gone?"

When his stepfather came looking for him, Hiyoshi dropped whatever he was doing and slipped in between the rows of millet. Chikuami would get tired of looking for him and start back. Hiyoshi would then jump out and let out a victorious shout. He never considered that when he returned home that night he would be given no dinner and punished. Carried away with his game, he couldn't help himself.

On this particular day, Chikuami was walking nervously through the millet, his eyes darting this way and that. "Where is the little devil?" Hiyoshi ran up the embankment toward the river.

When Chikuami got to the embankment, Ofuku was standing there alone. He was only one who wore clothes in the summertime, and he neither swam nor ate red frogs.

"Ah, aren't you the boy from the pottery shop? Do you know where our monkey is hiding?" Chikuami asked.

"I don't," Ofuku said, shaking his head a number of times. Chikuami intimidated him.

"If you lie to me, I'll go to your house and tell your father."

The cowardly Ofuku turned pale. "He's hiding in that boat." He pointed to a small river craft pulled up onto the bank. When his stepfather ran up to it, Hiyoshi leaped out like a river imp.

Chikuami sprang forward and knocked him down. As Hiyoshi fell forward, he hit his mouth against a stone. Blood ran between his teeth.

"Ow! That hurt!"

"Serves you right!"

"I'm sorry!"

After slapping Hiyoshi two or three times, Chikuami hoisted him up at arm's length and hurried back home. Although Chikuami called Hiyoshi "monkey," he did not dislike him. Because he was in a hurry to do away with their poverty, he felt he had to be strict with everyone, and he also wanted to improve Hiyoshi's character—by force if necessary.



"You're already nine years old, you little good-for-nothing," Chikuami scolded.

Once back home, he grabbed the boy by the arm and hit him several times more with his fist. Hiyoshi's mother tried to stop him. "You shouldn't be so easy on him," he barked at her.

When she started to cry, he gave the boy another beating.

"What are you crying about? I'm beating this twisted little monkey because I think it'll do him some good. He's nothing but trouble!"

At first, every time he was beaten, Hiyoshi would bury his head in his hands and beg for forgiveness. Now he just cried and cried—almost in delirium—and used abusive lan­guage.

"Why? Tell me why? You appear out of nowhere and pretend to be my father and swagger around. But my…my real father…."

"How can you say such a thing!" His mother turned pale, gasped, and put her hand over her mouth. Chikuami redoubled his rage.

"Smartass little good-for-nothing!" He threw Hiyoshi into the storage shed and or­dered Onaka not to give him any dinner. From then until it got dark, Hiyoshi's shrieking could be heard coming from the shed.

"Let me out! You fool! Stonehead! Is everybody deaf? If you don't let me out, I'll burn the place down!"

He went on crying, sounding like a howling dog, but around midnight he finally cried himself to sleep. Then he heard a voice calling his name from somewhere near his head. "Hiyoshi, Hiyoshi."

He was dreaming of his dead father. Half-awake, he called out, "Father!" Then he re­alized that the form standing in front of him was that of his mother. She had slipped out of the house and brought him some food.

"Eat this and calm down. Come morning, I'll apologize to your father for you."

He shook his head and clung to his mother's clothes. "It's a lie. He's not my father. Didn't my father die?"

"Now, now, why do you say such things? Why be unreasonable? I'm always telling you to be a good son to your father."

To his mother, it was like being cut by a knife. But Hiyoshi could not understand why she cried until her body shook.

The next day, Chikuami started yelling at Onaka from the time the sun came up. “You went behind my back and gave him food in the middle of the night, didn't you? Because you're so soft, his character will never improve. Otsumi is not to go anywhere the storage shed today either."

The trouble between husband and wife lasted almost half a day, until finally Hiyoshi's mother went off alone, crying again. When the sun was about to set, she returned, accompanied by a priest from the Komyoji Temple. Chikuami did not ask his wife where she’d been. Sitting outside with Otsumi and working on a straw mat, he frowned. "Chikuami," the priest said, "your wife came to the temple to ask us if we'd take your in as an acolyte. Do I have your consent?"

Chikuami looked silently at Onaka, who stood outside the back gate, sobbing.

"Hm, I suppose it might be all right. But doesn't he need a sponsor?"

"Happily, the wife of Kato Danjo, who lives at the foot of Yabuyama Hill, has agreed, and your wife are sisters, I believe."

"Ah, so she went to Kato's?" Chikuami's expression was bitter, although he did not object to Hiyoshi entering the temple. He tacitly agreed to the proposal, answering questions in monosyllables.

Giving an order to Otsumi, Chikuami went to put away his farm equipment, and worked for the rest of the day with a preoccupied air.

After he was let out of the storage shed, Hiyoshi received repeated warnings from his mother. All night long he'd been eaten up by mosquitoes, and his face was swollen. When he was going to serve at a temple, he burst into tears. But he quickly recovered.

"The temple'll be better," he declared.

While it was still light, the priest made the necessary preparations for Hiyoshi, and as the time for departure drew near, even Chikuami seemed a little sad. "Monkey, when you enter the temple, you must have a change of heart and discipline yourself," he told the boy. "Learn to read and write a bit, and let us see you become a full-fledged priest soon."

Hiyoshi mumbled a short word of assent and bowed. Once on the other side of the fence, he looked back time after time at the figure of his mother, who watched him disappear into the distance.

The small temple was on the top of a rise called Yabuyama, a bit removed from the village. A Buddhist temple of the Nichiren sect, its head priest was of advanced years and bedridden. Two young priests maintained the buildings and grounds. Because of the many years of civil war, the village was impoverished, and the temple had few parish­es. Hiyoshi, responding quickly to his new surroundings, worked hard, as if he were a different person. He was quick-witted and energetic, and the priests treated him with affection, avowing that they would train him well. Every night they made him practice calligraphy and gave him elementary schooling, during which he displayed an unusual talent memorization.

One day a priest told him, "I met your mother on the road yesterday. I told her you're doing fine."

Hiyoshi did not understand his mother's sorrow very well, but whatever made her happy made him happy.

But when the autumn of his tenth year came around, he began to find the temple too confining. The two younger priests had gone to neighboring villages to beg for alms. In their absence, Hiyoshi got out a wooden sword he had hidden away, and a handmade staff. Then he stood at the top of the hill, yelling down to his friends, who were getting ready to play war games.

"You enemy troops, you're stupid. Come on, attack me from any direction you like!"

Although it was not at all the usual time, the huge bell suddenly rang out from the bell tower. People at the foot of the hill were taken by surprise and wondered what was going on. A stone went flying down the hill, then a tile, which hit and injured a girl work­ing in a vegetable patch.

"It's that kid up at the temple. He's rounded up the village boys and they're playing al war again."

Three or four people climbed the hill and stood before the main hall of the temple The doors were wide open and the interior was covered with ashes. Both the transept and the sanctum were in a shambles. The incense burner had been broken. It looked as though the banners had been put to some questionable use, the gold brocade curtain had been ripped and tossed aside, and the drumhead was ripped.

"Shobo!" "Yosaku!" called parents looking for the children. Hiyoshi was nowhere to be seen; the other youngsters, too, had suddenly disappeared.

By the time the parents got back to the foot of the hill, there was some sort of tremor in the temple. The thickets rustled, stones flew, and the bell rang again. The sun went down, and the children, bruised and bloodied, limped down the hill.

Every night when the priests came back from begging for alms, the villagers would go to the temple and complain. But when the priests returned that evening, they could only stare at each other in shock. The incense burner in front of the altar had been split per fectly in two. The donor of this precious vessel was a man by the name of Sutejiro, who was a pottery merchant from the village of Shinkawa and one of the temple's few remaining parishioners. At the time he had made the gift to the temple, three or four year; earlier, he had said, "This incense burner was fired by my master, the late Gorodayu. I have cherished it as a keepsake. He decorated it from memory, and he took particular care in applying the blue pigment. In offering it to this temple, I assume it will be treatec as a treasured article until the end of time."

Ordinarily it was kept in a box, but just a week earlier Sutejiro's wife had visited the temple. The incense burner had been taken out and used, but had not been put away again.

The color drained from the priests' faces. Added to their worries was the possibility that if they reported this to the old head priest, his illness would worsen.

"It was probably Monkey," said one.

"Right," another agreed. "None of those other little devils could do this kind of evil.

"What can we do?"

They dragged Hiyoshi in and thrust the pieces of the broken vessel in his face. Hiyoshi could not remember breaking the incense burner, but said, "I'm sorry."

The apology made the priests even angrier, because the boy spoke calmly and seemed to be without a trace of remorse. "Heathen!" they called him, and tied his hands behind his back and bound him to one of the large pillars of the temple.

"We're going to leave you here for a few days. Maybe you'll get eaten by rats," the priests said.

This sort of thing happened to Hiyoshi all the time. When his friends came the next day, he thought bitterly, he would not be able to play with them. And when they did come, they saw he was being punished and ran off.

“Untie me," he called out after them. "If you don't, I'm going to beat you up."

Elderly pilgrims and the village women who made their way up to the temple made fun of him. "Say, isn't that a monkey?"

At one point he was calm enough to mutter to himself, "I'll show you." His small body, pressed against the great temple pillar, was suddenly filled with a feeling of great power. He kept his lips shut about such things and, well aware of his predicament, put on a defiant face, cursing his fate.

He fell into a deep sleep, only to be awakened by his own drooling. The day was frightfully long. Thoroughly bored, he gazed at the broken incense burner. The potter had written an inscription in small characters on the bottom of the vessel: "Made with good omen, Gorodayu."

The nearby village of Seto and, in fact, the entire province was famous for pottery.  This had never interested him before, but looking at the painted landscape on the incense burner, his imagination took off.

Where is that, I wonder?

Mountains and stone bridges, towers and people, clothing and boats, the like of which he had never seen before, were painted in indigo on the white porcelain. It all left him deeply puzzled.

What country is that? he wondered.

He could not guess. He had a young boy's cleverness and thirst for knowledge and, desperate for an answer, he strained his imagination for an answer that would fill this emtiness.

Could there really be such a country?

While he was thinking hard about this, something flashed in his head—something he had been taught or had heard, but had forgotten. He racked his brains.

China! That's it! It's a picture of China!

He was pleased with himself. As he looked at the glazed porcelain, he flew to China in his imagination.

At long last the day came to an end. The priests returned from their begging. Instead of finding Hiyoshi in tears, as they had expected, they saw that he was grinning.

“Even punishment is useless. He's beyond our help. We'd better send him back to his parents.”

That evening, one of the priests gave Hiyoshi some supper and took him down the hill to the house of Kato Danjo.

Kato Danjo lay down next to the lamp. He was a samurai, used to being exposed to battle morning and night. On those rare days when he could relax, he found staying at home much too peaceful. Tranquillity and relaxation were things to be feared—he might become used to them.

"Oetsu!"

"Yes?" Her voice came from the direction of the kitchen.

"Somebody's knocking at the gate."

"It's not the squirrels again?"

"No, somebody's out there."

Wiping her hands, she went to the gate and came back right away, saying, "It's a priest from the Komyoji. He's brought Hiyoshi." A look of distress swept over her young face.

"Aha!" Danjo, who had expected this, said, laughing, "It seems that Monkey has got­ten a leave of absence." Danjo listened to the priest's recital of recent events. Having spon­sored Hiyoshi's entrance into the temple, he now apologized to all concerned and took charge of Hiyoshi.

"If he is unfit to be a priest, there's nothing to be done. We'll send him back home to Nakamura. You should no longer feel under any obligation to keep him. I'm sorry he's been nothing but trouble."

"Please explain the matter to his parents," the priest said, and as he turned to go, his step became lighter, as if a heavy load had been lifted from his shoulders. Hiyoshi cut a lonely figure. He looked around curiously, wondering whose house he had come to. He had not stopped here on his way to the temple, nor had he been told that relatives lived close by.

"Well, little boy, have you had anything to eat?" Danjo asked with a smile. Hiyoshi shook his head.

"Have some cakes, then."

While he was munching on the cakes, Hiyoshi eyed the spear suspended over the door, and the crest on the armor chest, then looked hard at Danjo.

Is there really something wrong with this boy? Danjo asked himself. He had his doubts. He stared back, but Hiyoshi neither turned his eyes away nor looked down. There was no trace of the imbecile in him. He smiled rather charmingly at Danjo.

Danjo laughed as he gave in. "You've gotten quite big, haven't you? Hiyoshi, do you remember me?"

This focused a hazy memory in Hiyoshi's mind of a man who had patted him on the head when he was six.

As was the custom with samurai, Danjo almost always slept at the castle at Kiyosu, or on the battlefield. The days he was able to stay at home with his wife had been few. He had returned unexpectedly the day before, and would go back to Kiyosu the next day. Oetsu wondered how many months would pass before they spent another day together.

A troublesome child! Oetsu thought. Hiyoshi's arrival was inopportune. She looked up, embarrassed. What would her in-laws think? Could this really be her sister's child?

She could hear Hiyoshi's screechy voice from her husband's sitting room: "It was you with all those samurai on the riverbank that day, riding a horse."

"You remember, do you?"

"Sure." He went on in a familiar tone of voice, "If that's the case, you're a relative of mine. You and my mother's younger sister are engaged."

Oetsu and the maid went to the living room to get out serving trays. Oetsu felt uncomfortably cold, listening to Hiyoshi's language and his loud country boy's voice, Opening the sliding door, she called to her husband.

"Dinner's ready."

She saw that her husband was arm-wrestling with Hiyoshi, whose face was bright red, buttocks raised like a hornet's tail. Danjo, too, was acting like a child.

"Dinner?" he said absently.

"The soup is going to get cold."

"Go ahead and eat by yourself. This kid is playing for keeps. We're having a good time. Ha, ha! He's a strange one."

Danjo, totally absorbed, seemed to be taken in completely by Hiyoshi's artlessness. The boy, always quick to make friends, was almost leading his uncle by the nose. From arm-wrestling they went to finger puppets, then mimicry, playing children's games until njo was holding his sides with laughter.

The next day, as he was about to leave, Danjo said to his wife, who seemed depressed, “If his parents allow it, how about keeping him here? I doubt he'd be much use, but I suppose it'd be better than keeping a real monkey."

Oetsu was less than pleased with the idea. Going with her husband as far as the garden1 gate, she said, "No. He would annoy your mother. That would never do."

"Whatever you say."

Oetsu knew that whenever Danjo was away from home, his mind dwelt on his lord and on battles. Would he come back alive? she wondered. Was it such a big thing for a man to make a name for himself? Oetsu watched his retreating figure and thought of the many months of loneliness ahead. Then she finished her housework and set off with Hiyoshi for Nakamura.

"Good morning, madam," said a man coming from the opposite direction. He seemed to be a merchant, probably the master of a large establishment. He wore a resplendent half coat, a short sword, and, on his feet, leather socks with a design of small cherry blossoms. He was about forty and genial-looking.

"Aren't you Master Kato's wife? Where are you off to?"

"To my sister's house in Nakamura, to take this child home." She held Hiyoshi's hand tde tighter.

"Ah, this little gendeman. This is the lad expelled from the Komyoji."

"You've heard already?"

"Oh, yes. As a matter of fact, I've just come from the temple."

Hiyoshi looked around restlessly. Never before had he been called a "little gentleman."  Ashamed, he felt himself blush. Oh, my, you've been to the temple because of him?"

"Yes, the priests came to my house to apologize. I was told that an incense burner I had donated to the temple was broken in two."

"This little devil did that!" said Oetsu.

"Come now, you shouldn't say such things. These things happen."

"I heard it was a very rare, famous piece."

"Most regrettably, it was the work of Gorodayu, whom I served during his travels to the country of the Ming."

"Doesn't he also use the name Shonzui?"

"Yes, but he fell ill and passed away some time ago. In recent years, many pieces of blue-and-white porcelain bearing the seal 'Made by Shonzui Gorodayu' have been made, but they are fakes. The only man who has ever been to the country of the Ming and brought back their pottery-making techniques is now in the next world."

"I've heard that you've adopted Master Shonzui's son, Ofuku."

"That's right. Children tease him by calling him 'the Chinese kid.' Lately he's been refusing to go outside at all." The merchant gazed down at Hiyoshi. The boy, unexpectedly hearing Ofuku's name, wondered about the man's business.

"You know," the merchant continued, "it turns out that Hiyoshi here is the only one who ever defended Ofuku. So when Ofuku heard about this latest incident, he asked me to intercede. Many other things are supposed to have happened. The priests told me about his bad behavior, and I couldn't persuade them to take him back again." His chest puffed up with laughter.

"His parents must have ideas about what to do with him," the man said, "but when he's to be placed somewhere else again, if his parents think an establishment like mine would be appropriate, I'd like to be of assistance. Somehow, he seems to hold promise."

With a polite farewell, he took his leave. Holding on to Oetsu's sleeve, Hiyoshi looked back at him several times.

"Tell me, Auntie, who was that man?"

"His name is Sutejiro. He's a wholesaler who handles pottery from many countries."

Hiyoshi was silent for a while as they trudged along.

"The country of the Ming, where is that?" he asked suddenly, thinking of what he had just heard.

"That means China."

"Where is it? How big is it? Are there castles and samurai and battles there, too?"

"Don't be such a nuisance. Be quiet, won't you?" Oetsu shook her sleeve irritably, but a scolding by his aunt had no more effect on Hiyoshi than a gentle breeze. He craned his neck upward and gazed fixedly at the blue sky. It was so wondrous he could hardly stand it. Why was it so incredibly blue? Why were human beings earthbound? If people were able to fly like birds, he himself could probably travel to the country of the Ming. Indeed, the birds depicted on the incense burner were the same as those in Owari. The people's clothes were different, he remembered, as were the shapes of the ships, but the birds were the same. It must be that birds had no countries; heaven and earth were all one country to them.

I'd like to visit different countries, he mused.

Hiyoshi had never noticed how small and poor a house he was returning to. But when he and Oetsu peered inside, he realized for the first time that even at midday it was as dark as a cellar. Chikuami was nowhere to be seen; maybe he was out attending to some business.

"Nothing but trouble," Onaka said, after hearing of Hiyoshi's latest escapades. She let out a deep sigh. His expression was nonchalant. As she looked at him, there was no blame in her eyes. Rather, she was impressed by how much he had grown in two years, Suspiciously, Hiyoshi eyed the infant sucking at his mother's breast. At some point his family had increased by one member. Without warning, he took the child's head, wresting rom the nipple, and peered at it.

"When was this baby born?" he asked.

Instead of answering, his mother said, "You've become a big brother. You'll have to behave."

"What's his name?"

"Kochiku."

"That's a strange name," he said excitedly, at the same time experiencing a feeling of power over the small child: the will of an older brother could be imposed on a younger brother.

"Starting tomorrow, I'll carry you on my back, Kochiku," he promised. But he was hadling the baby clumsily, and Kochiku began to cry.

His stepfather appeared just as Oetsu was leaving. Onaka had told her sister that Chikuami had grown tired of trying to wipe out their poverty. He sat around drinking sake, and his face was flushed now as he entered the house. Spying Hiyoshi, he let out a yel1.

"You scoundrel! You were expelled from the temple and you come back here?"

Tenzo the Bandit

Hiyoshi had been back home for more than a year. He was eleven. Whenever Chikuami lost sight of him, even for a moment, he'd charge around looking for him and roar at the top of his voice, "Monkey? Have you chopped the firewood yet? Why not? Why did you leave the pail in the field?" If Hiyoshi so much as started to talk back, the rough, hard hol­low of his stepfather's hand would quickly ring against the side of the boy's head. At such times his mother, the baby strapped to her back while she trod barley or cooked, would force herself to look away and remain silent. Still, her face looked pained, as if she herself had been slapped.

"It's natural for any eleven-year-old brat to help with the work. If you think you can slip away and play all the time, I'll break your ass!"

The foulmouthed Chikuami drove Hiyoshi hard. But after being sent home from the temple, he worked hard, as if he had come back a different person. On those occasions when his mother unwisely tried to shield him, Chikuami's rough hands and voice lashed out with severity. It was better, she decided, to pretend to ignore her son. Now Chikuami rarely went into the fields, but he was often away from the house. He would go into town, return drunk, and yell at his wife and children.

"No matter how much I work, the poverty of this house won't ever be eased," he complained. "There are too many parasites, and the land tax keeps going up. If it weren't for these kids, I'd become a masterless samurai—a ronin! And I'd drink delicious sake. Ah, these chains on my hands and feet!"

After one of these fits of abusiveness, he would make his wife count out what little money they had, then send Otsumi or Hiyoshi out to buy sake, even in the middle of the night.

If his stepfather wasn't around, Hiyoshi would sometimes give vent to his feelings.

Onaka hugged him close and comforted him.

"Mother, I want to go out and work again," he said one day.

"Please stay here. If it weren't for your being around…" The rest of what she said was unintelligible through her tears. As each tear appeared, she turned her head to the side and wiped her eyes. Seeing his mother's tears, Hiyoshi couldn't say anything. He wanted o run away, but he knew he would have to stay where he was and bear the unhappiness and bitterness. When he felt sorry for his mother, the natural desires of youth—to play, to eat, to learn, to run away—would grow within him like so many weeds. All these were fitted against the angry words Chikuami hurled at his mother and the fists that rained iown on his own head.

"Eat shit!" he muttered, his defiant soul a flame within his small body. Finally he pushed himself to the point of confronting his fearsome stepfather.

"Send me out to work again," he said. "I'd rather be in service than stay in this house."

Chikuami didn't argue. "Fine," he said. "Go wherever you like, and eat someone else's rice. But the next time you get driven away, don't come back to this house." He meant what he said, and although he realized Hiyoshi was only an eleven-year-old boy, he found limself arguing with him as an equal, which made him even madder.

Hiyoshi's next job was at the village dyer's shop.

"He's all mouth, and sassy to boot. Just looking for a sunny place to pick the dirt from his navel," said one of the workmen operating the dye press.

Soon after that, word came from the go-between: "I'm afraid he's of no use." And back home he went.

Chikuami glared at him. "Well, how about it, Monkey? Is society going to feed an idler like you? Don't you yet understand the value of parents?"

He wanted to say, I'm not bad! but instead he said, "You're the one who no longer farms, and it'd be better if you didn't just gamble and drink at the horse market. Everybody's sorry for my mother."

"How dare you talk that way to your father!" Chikuami's thundering roar shut the boy up, but now he was beginning to see Hiyoshi in a different light. He thought, Bit by bit, he's growing up. Each time Hiyoshi went out into the world and came back again, he was noticeably bigger. The eyes that judged his parents and his home were maturing quickly. And the fact that Hiyoshi was looking at him with the eyes of an adult deeply an­noyed, frightened, and displeased the errant stepfather.

"Go on, hurry and find work," he ordered.

The following day, Hiyoshi went to his next employer, the village cooper. He was back home within a month, the mistress of the shop having complained, "I can't have a dis­turbing child like this in my house."

Hiyoshi's mother could not understand what she meant by "disturbing." Other places where Hiyoshi began apprenticeships were the plasterer's shop, the lunch counter at the horse market, and the blacksmith's. Each time he stayed no longer than three to six months. His comings and goings gradually became known, and his reputation got so bad that no one would act as his go-between.

"Ah, that boy at Chikuami's house. He's a foulmouthed good-for-nothing."

Naturally, Hiyoshi's mother felt embarrassed around people. She felt awkward about her son, and in response to the gossip she would quickly deprecate him, as if his growing delinquency were incurable. "I don't know what can be done with him," she'd say. "He hates farming, and he just won't settle down at home."

In the spring of his fourteenth year, Hiyoshi's mother told him, "This time you absolutely must stick with it. If the same thing happens one more time, my sister isn't going be able to look Master Kato in the face, and everybody's going to laugh and say, 'Again?’ Mind you, if you fail this time, I won't forgive you."

The next day his aunt took him to Shinkawa for an interview. The large, imposing mansion they went to belonged to Sutejiro, the pottery merchant. Ofuku was now a pale youth of sixteen; from helping his adoptive father, the boy had learned the pottery business himself.

In the pottery store, the distinction between superior and subordinate was rigidly applied. During his first interview, Hiyoshi knelt respectfully on the wooden veranda while Ofuku sat inside, eating cakes, chatting happily with his parents.

"Well, it's Yaemon's little monkey. Your father died, and Chikuami from the village became your stepfather. And now you want to serve in this house? You'll have to work hard." This was said in such a grown-up tone of voice that no one who had known the younger Ofuku would have believed it was the same person speaking.

"Yes, sir," Hiyoshi replied.

He was taken to the servants' quarters, from which he could hear the laughter of the master's family in the living room. That his friend had not shown him the least bit friendliness made him feel even lonelier.

"Hey, Monkey!" Ofuku did not mince his words. "Tomorrow, get up early and go to Kiyosu. Since you'll be taking goods to an official, load the packages onto the regular handcart. On your way back, stop in at the shipping agent's and check whether the pottery has arrived from Hizen. If you loiter along the way or get back too late, as you did the other day, you won't be let into the house."

Hiyoshi's answer was not a simple "yes" or "yes, sir." Like the clerks who had served much longer in the shop, he said, "Most certainly, sir, and with the greatest respect, sir.”

Hiyoshi was often sent on errands to Nagoya and Kiyosu. That day he took note the white walls and high stone ramparts of Kiyosu Castle and mused, What kind of pe people live inside? How can I get to live there myself?

Feeling as small and wretched as a worm, he was frustrated. As he made his way through town, pushing the heavy handcart piled high with pottery wrapped in straw, he heard the familiar words:

"Well, well, there goes a monkey!"

"A monkey pushing a handcart!"

Veiled courtesans, fashionably dressed townswomen, and the pretty young wives good families all whispered, pointed, and stared at him as he went by. He himself had already become proficient at spotting the pretty ones. What annoyed him most was the staring, as though he were some kind of freak.

The governor of Kiyosu Castle was Shiba Yoshimune, and one of his principal retainers was Oda Nobutomo. At the spot where the castle moat and the Gojo River met, one still sensed the presence of the declining grandeur of the old Ashikaga shogunate, and the

prosperity that lingered here, even in the midst of the many disturbances going on in the



world, upheld Kiyosu's reputation as the most glamorous town in any of the provinces.

For sake, go to the sake shop.

For good tea, go to the tea shop.

But for courtesans, it's Sugaguchi in Kiyosu.

In the pleasure quarter of Sugaguchi, the eaves of brothels and teahouses lined the streets. In the daytime, the young girls who served in the brothels sang as they played catch. Hiyoshi pushed his handcart through their game, dreaming, How can I become great? Unable to come up with an answer, he kept thinking, Someday…someday…He spun out one fantasy after another as he walked along. The town was full of all the things that were denied to him: delicious food, opulent houses, gaudy military gear and saddlery, rich clothing and precious stones.

Thinking of his skinny sister with her pale face in Nakamura, he watched the steam rising from dumpling steamers in the sweet shops and wished he could buy some for her. Or passing an old apothecary, he would gaze in ecstasy at the bags of medicinal herbs and say to himself, Mother, if I could give you medicine like that, I bet you'd soon get much better. Ever present in his dreams was the wish to improve the wretched lives of his other and Otsumi. The one person he gave no thought to at all was Chikuami.

As he approached the castle town, his mind was dazzled by his usual daydreams, Someday… someday…but how? was his only thought as he walked along.

"Fool!"

On his way across a busy crossroads, he abruptly found himself in the center of a noisy mob. He had run his cart into a mounted samurai, followed by ten retainers carrying spears and leading a horse. Straw-wrapped bowls and plates fell all over the road, breaking into pieces. Hiyoshi tottered uncertainly among the wreckage.

"Are you blind?"

"You idiot!"

While scolding Hiyoshi, the attendants trampled on the broken dishes. Not a single passerby drew near to offer him help. He collected the broken pieces, tossed them into the handcart, and began pushing again, his blood boiling in indignation for having been treated this way in public. And within his childish fantasies, he struck a serious note: How will I ever be able to make people like that prostrate themselves in front of me?

A little later, he thought of the scolding he would get when he got back to his master’s house, and the cold look on Ofuku's face loomed large in his imagination. His great fantasy, like a soaring phoenix, vanished in a host of worries, as if he had been swallowed up in a cloud of poppy seeds.

Night had fallen. Hiyoshi had put the handcart away in the shed and was washing his feet by the well. Sutejiro's establishment, which was called the Pottery Mansion, was like the residence of a great provincial warrior clan. The imposing main house was linked to any outbuildings, and rows of warehouses stood nearby.

"Little Monkey! Little Monkey!"

As Ofuku drew near, Hiyoshi got up.

"Yeah?"

Ofuku struck Hiyoshi's shoulder with the thin bamboo cane he always carried when looking around the employees' quarters or giving orders to the warehouse workers. This was not the first time he had struck Hiyoshi. Hiyoshi stumbled, and was immediately covered with mud again.

"When addressing the master, do you say 'yeah'? No matter how many times I tell you, your manners don't improve. This is not a farmer's house!"

Hiyoshi made no reply.

"Why don't you say something? Don't you understand? Say 'yes, sir.'"

Afraid of being hit again, Hiyoshi said, "Yes, sir."

"When did you get back from Kiyosu?"

"Just now."

"You're lying. I asked the people in the kitchen, and they told me you'd already eaten.”

"I felt dizzy. I was afraid I was going to faint."

"Why?"

"Because I was hungry after walking all that way."

"Hungry! When you got back, why didn't you go to the master to make your report right away?"

"I was going to, after washing my feet."

"Excuses, excuses! From what the kitchen workers told me, a lot of the pottery you were supposed to deliver in Kiyosu was broken on the way. Is it true?"

"Yes."

"I suppose you felt it was all right not to apologize to me directly. You thought you'd make up some kind of lie, make a joke of it, or ask the kitchen workers to cover for you! This time I'm not going to put up with it." Ofuku grabbed Hiyoshi's ear and pulled. "Well, come on. Speak up."      »

I’m sorry.

"This is getting to be a habit. We're going to get to the bottom of this. Come along we'll talk to my father."

"Please forgive me." Hiyoshi's voice sounded just like the cry of a monkey.

Ofuku did not loosen his grip. He started to go around the house. The path that led from the warehouse to the garden entrance of the house was screened by a thicket of tall Chinese bamboos.

Suddenly, Hiyoshi stopped in his tracks. "Listen," he said, glaring at Ofuku and knocking away his hand, "I've got something to tell you."

"What are you up to now? I'm the master here, remember?" Ofuku said, turning pale and beginning to tremble.

"That's why I'm always obedient, but there's something I want to say to you. Ofuku, have you forgotten our childhood days? You and I were friends, weren't we?"

"That belongs to the past."

"All right, it belongs to the past, but you shouldn't forget it. When they teased you and called you 'the Chinese kid,' do you remember who always stuck up for you?"

"I remember."

"Don't you think you owe me something?" Hiyoshi asked, scowling. He was much smaller than Ofuku, but he had such an air of dignity about him that it was impossible to ell who was the elder. "The other workers are all talking, too," Hiyoshi went on. "They say the master is good, but the young master is conceited and hasn't got a heart. A boy like you, who's never known poverty or hardship, should try working in someone else's house. If you bully me and the other employees again, I don't know what I'll do. But remember that I have a relative who's a ronin in Mikuriya. He has over a thousand men under his command. If he came here on my account, he could wipe out a house like this in a single night." Hiyoshi's threatening stream of nonsense, combined with the fire in his eyes, terrified the hapless Ofuku.

"Master Ofuku!"

"Master Ofuku! Where's Master Ofuku?"

The servants from the main house had been searching for Ofuku for some time. Ofuku, held prisoner by Hiyoshi's stare, had lost the courage to answer them.

"They're calling you," Hiyoshi muttered. And he added, making it sound like an order, "You can go now, but don't forget what I told you." With this parting remark, he turned away and walked toward the back entrance to the house. Later, his heart beating wildly, he wondered if they were going to punish him. But nothing happened. The incident was forgotten.

* **

The year drew to a close. Among farmers and townspeople, a boy turning fifteen usually had a coming-of-age ceremony. In Hiyoshi's case, there was no one to give him a sin­gle ceremonial fan, much less a feast. Since it was New Year's, he sat on the corner of a wooden platform with the other servants, sniffling and eating millet cakes cooked with vegetables—a rare treat.

He wondered grimly, Are my mother and Otsumi eating millet cakes this New Year's? Although they were millet farmers, he could recall many a New Year's when there had jeen no cakes to eat. The other men around him were grumbling.

"Tonight the master will have visitors, so we'll have to sit up straight and listen to his stories again."

"I'll have to pretend to have a stomachache and stay in bed."

"I hate that. Especially at New Year's."

There were similar occasions two or three times a year, at the New Year and at the festival of the god of wealth. Whatever the pretext, Sutejiro invited a great many guests: the potters of Seto, the families of favored customers in Nagoya and Kiyosu, members of samurai clans, even the acquaintances of relatives. From that evening on, there would be a horrendous crush of people.

Today, Sutejiro was in an especially good mood. Bowing low, he welcomed his guests in person, apologizing for having neglected them that past year. In the tearoom, which was decorated with one exquisite, carefully chosen flower, Sutejiro's beautiful wife served tea to her guests. The utensils she used were all rare and precious.

It was Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa who, late in the previous century, had first practiced the tea ceremony as an aesthetic exercise. It had spread to the common people, and before long, without anyone consciously realizing it, tea had become a central part of people's daily lives. Within the confines of the narrow little tearoom with its single flower and single cup of tea, the turbulence of the world and human suffering could be forgotten. Even in the midst of a corrupt world, the tea ceremony could teach one the cultivation of the spirit.

"Do I have the honor of addressing the lady of the house?" The speaker was a big-boned warrior, who had come in with the other guests. "My name is Watanabe Tenzo. I am a friend of your kinsman Shichirobei. He promised to bring me tonight, but unfortunately he's been taken ill, so I came alone." He bowed politely. He was gentle in demeanor, and although he had the rustic appearance of a country samurai, he asked for a bowl of tea. Sutejiro's wife served it in a yellow Seto bowl.

"I am not acquainted with the etiquette of the tea ceremony," he said. Tenzo looked around him while contentedly sipping the tea. "As might be expected of such a famous,  wealthy man, the tea implements here are certainly well crafted. While it is rude of me to ask, isn't the porcelain pitcher you are using a piece of akae ware?"

"Did you notice that?"

"Yes." Tenzo looked at the pitcher, deeply impressed. "If this were to fall into hands of a Sakai merchant, I daresay it would fetch about a thousand gold pieces. Quite apart from its value, it's a beautiful piece."

As they were chatting, they were called inside for dinner. Sutejiro's wife led the way, and together they went into the hall. The place settings had been arranged in a circle around the room. As host, Sutejiro sat in the very center, greeting his guests. When wife and the maids had finished serving the sake, he took his own seat at one of the tables. He picked up his cup and started to tell stories about the Ming, among whom had spent many years. It was so that he might talk about his adventures in China, a country he knew well, but one that was still relatively unknown in Japan, that he would invite his guests and treat them to such lavish entertainments.

"Well, this was a real feast. And again tonight I've heard a number of rather interesing stories," said one guest.

"I've certainly had my fill. But it's getting late. I'd better be on my way," said another.

"Me too. I really should be taking my leave."

The guests departed one by one, and the evening came to a close.

"Ah, it's over!" said a servant. "The stories may be a great treat for the guests, but hear about the Chinese all year round."

Not hiding their yawns, the servants, Hiyoshi among them, worked frantically to clean up. The lamps in the large kitchen, in the hall, and in Sutejiro's and Ofuku's rooms were finally blown out, and the stout bar on the gate in the earthen wall was set in place. As a matter of course, samurai mansions, and also the homes of merchants—if they were at all substantial—were enclosed by an earthen wall or surrounded by a moat, which would be backed up by two or three tiers of fortifications. When night fell, people in cities and the countryside felt uneasy. This had been the case ever since the civil war the previous century, and nobody thought it strange anymore.

As soon as the sun went down, people slept. When the workers, whose only pleasure was sleeping, crawled into their beds, they slumbered like cattle. Covered by a thin straw mat, Hiyoshi lay in a corner of the male servants' room, his head on a wooden pillow. Along with the other servants, he had listened to his master's stories about the great country of the Ming. But unlike them, he had listened avidly. And he was so prone to fantasizing that he was too excited to sleep, almost as though he had a fever.

What's that? he wondered, sitting up. He strained his ears, sure he had just heard a sound like a tree branch breaking and, just before that, the sound of muffled footsteps. He got up, went through the kitchen, and stealthily peeked outdoors. On this cold, clear light, the water in the large barrel was frozen, and icicles hung like swords from the wooden eaves. Looking up, he saw a man climbing the huge tree at the back. Hiyoshi guessed that the sound he had heard earlier was the cracking of a branch the man had stepped on. He observed the strange behavior of the figure in the tree. The man was swinging a light no bigger than a firefly around and around. A fuse cord? Hiyoshi wondered. The red swirl threw faint, smoky sparks into the wind. It seemed likely that the man was sending a signal to someone outside the walls.

He's coming down, Hiyoshi thought, as he hid like a weasel in the shadows. The man slid down the tree and set off with long strides toward the back of the grounds. Hiyoshi let him pass and then trailed after him.

"Ah! He was one of the guests this evening," he muttered in disbelief. It was the one who had introduced himself as Watanabe Tenzo, the man who had been served tea by the naster's wife, and who had listened raptly to Sutejiro's stories from beginning to end. All he other guests had gone home, so where had Tenzo been until now? And why? He was dressed differently from before. He wore straw sandals, the hems of his baggy trousers vere rolled up and tied back, and a large sword was belted at his side. His eyes took in the surroundings with a fierce, hawklike expression. Anyone seeing him would instantly realize that he was out for someone's blood.

Tenzo approached the gate, and just at that moment, the men waiting outside crashed against it.

"Wait! I'll loosen the bar. Be quiet!"

It must be a raid by bandits! Their leader had indeed been signaling to his followers, come to pillage the house like a swarm of locusts. Hidden in the shadows, Hiyoshi thought, Robbers! Instantly his blood surged, and he forgot all about himself. Although he did not think it through, he no longer cared about his own safety because he was concerned solely about his master's house. Even so, what he did next could only be described as foolhardy.

"Hey, you!" he called out, walking brazenly out of the shadows with who knew what in mind. He stood behind Tenzo just as he was about to open the gate. A shudder of fear ran up Tenzo's spine. How could he have guessed that he was being challenged by a fifteen-year-old boy who worked for the pottery shop? When he looked around, he was puzzled by what he saw: an odd-looking youth with the face of a monkey, eyeing him with a strange expression. Tenzo stared very hard at him for a moment.

"Who are you?" he demanded, perplexed.

Hiyoshi had completely forgotten the danger of the situation. His expression was unsmiling and blank. "All right, you, what's going on here?" he asked.

"What?" said Tenzo, now thoroughly confused. Is he crazy? he wondered. Hiyoshi’s unforgiving expression, so unlike a child's, overwhelmed him. He felt he had to stare the boy down.

"We are the ronin of Mikuriya. Raise a cry and I'll cut you down. We didn't come here to take the lives of children. Get out of here. Go lose yourself in the woodshed Supposing the gesture would intimidate the boy, he tapped the hilt of his long sword. Hiyoshi grinned, showing his white teeth.

"So you are a robber, eh? If you're a robber, you want to leave with what you came here for, right?"

"Don't be a nuisance. Get lost!"

"I'm going. But if you open that gate, not one of you will leave here alive."

"What do you mean by that?"

"You don't know, do you? Nobody knows but me."

"You're a bit crazy, aren't you?"

"Speak for yourself. You're the one whose head isn't right—coming to rob a house like this."

Tenzo's men, tired of waiting, knocked on the gate and called out, "What's going on?”

"Hold on a minute," said Tenzo. Then he said to Hiyoshi, "You said if we go into this mansion, we won't go home alive. Why should I believe you?"

"It's true."

"If I find out you're playing games, I'll cut off your head."

"You aren't going to find out for nothing. You'll have to give me something in return.”

"Huh?" Grumbling to himself, Tenzo was suspicious of this boy. Overhead, the starry sky was getting brighter, but the mansion, surrounded by its earthen wall, was still sunk in total darkness.

"What do you want?" Tenzo asked tentatively.

"I don't want a thing, only that you let me become a member of your gang."

"You want to become one of us?"

"Yes, that's right."

"You want to become a thief?"

“Yes.”

"How old are you?"

"Fifteen."

"Why do you want to become a thief?"

"The master drives me like a horse. The people here bully me, they call me 'monkey’. all the time, so I'd like to become a bandit like you and get even with them."

"All right, I'll let you join us, but only after you prove yourself. Now explain what said before."

"About you all being killed?"

"Yes."

"Well, your plan's no good. This evening you disguised yourself as a guest and mixed with a large group of people."

"Yes."

"Someone recognized you."

"That's impossible."

"Think what you like, but the master clearly knew who you were. So, earlier this evening, on his instructions, I ran to the house of Kato of Yabuyama and let him know we would surely be attacked in the middle of the night and would appreciate his help."

"Kato of Yabuyama… that would be the Oda retainer Kato Danjo."

"Because Danjo and my master are relatives, he got hold of a dozen samurai who live around here, and they all came in during the evening, dressed as guests. They're on watch for you at the house right now, and that's no lie."

Hiyoshi could see from the pallor of his face that Tenzo believed him.

"Is that so?" he said. "Where are they? What are they doing?"

"They were sitting in a circle, drinking sake and waiting. Then they decided you probably wouldn't attack this late, so they went to sleep. They made me stand watch out in the cold."

Tenzo grabbed Hiyoshi, saying, "It's your life if you cry out." With the huge palm of his hand, he covered Hiyoshi's mouth.

Struggling, Hiyoshi managed to say, "Mister, this isn't what you promised. I won't make any noise. Take your hand away." He sank his fingernails into the robber's hand.

Tenzo shook his head.

"Nothing doing. I am, after all, Watanabe Tenzo of Mikuriya. You want me to believe this house is prepared. Even if that's true, if I left empty-handed I wouldn't be able to face my men."

"But…"

"What can you do?"

"I'll bring out anything you want."

"You'll bring it out?"

"Yeah. That's the way to do it. That way you can finish this thing without the danger cutting people down or being cut down yourself."

"Without fail?" He tightened his grip on Hiyoshi's throat.

The gate was still closed. Afraid and suspicious, his men kept calling out in loud whispers and rattling the gate.

"Hey, boss, are you in there?"

"What's going on?"

"What's the matter with the gate?"

Tenzo loosened the bar halfway and whispered through the gap, "Something's wrong here, so keep quiet. And don't stay in a group. Split up and hide."

Going for what Tenzo had asked for, Hiyoshi crawled quietly from the entrance of the male servants' quarters into the main house. Once there, he saw that a lamp was lit in Sutejiro's room.

"Master?" Hiyoshi called out as he seated himself respectfully on the veranda. There was no answer, but he sensed that both Sutejiro and his wife were awake.

"Madam?"

"Who is it?" asked Sutejiro's wife, her voice trembling. Either she or her husband had awakened and shaken the other awake because just a moment ago there had been a vague rustling and the sound of voices. Thinking it might be an attack by bandits, both had shut their eyes in fear. Hiyoshi opened the sliding door and moved forward on his knees. Both Sutejiro and his wife opened their eyes wide.

"There are bandits outside. A lot of them," Hiyoshi said.

Husband and wife swallowed hard, but said nothing. They looked incapable of speech.

"It'd be terrible if they came rushing in. They'd tie you two up and leave five or six dead or injured. I've thought of a plan, and I've got their leader waiting for your answer.'

Hiyoshi told them of his conversation with Tenzo, and ended by saying, "Master please let the robbers have what they want. I'll take it to Tenzo, and he'll go away."

There was a slight pause before the merchant asked, "Hiyoshi, what in the world doe; he want?"

"He said he came for the akae water pitcher."

"What?"

"He said that if I handed it over, he'd go away. Since it's not worth anything, won't you let him have it? It was all my idea," Hiyoshi explained proudly. "I'll pretend I'm stealing it for him." But the despair and fear hovering around the faces of Sutejiro and his wife were almost palpable. "The akae pitcher was taken out of storage for the tea ceremony earlier today, wasn't it? The man must be a fool to tell me to bring that worthless thing to him!" Hiyoshi said, looking as if he found the whole matter hilarious.

Sutejiro's wife was extremely quiet, as though she had been turned to stone. With a deep sigh, Sutejiro said, "This is awful." Lost in thought, he too became quiet.

"Master, why look at it that way? One piece of pottery can finish all this without bloodshed."

"It's not just any piece of pottery. Even in the country of the Ming there are few pieces like it. I brought it back from China after considerable hardship. What's more, it is a keepsake from Master Shonzui."

"In the pottery shops of Sakai," said his wife, "it would fetch over a thousand gold pieces."

But the robbers were more to be feared. If they resisted them, there would be a massacre, and there had been cases of mansions being burned to the ground. Neither event was unusual in these unsettled times.

In such a situation, a man did not have much time to make up his mind. For a moment, Sutejiro seemed to be unable to break free from his past attachment to the pitcher. But finally he said, "It can't be helped." He felt a little better after that. He took the key to the storehouse from a small drawer of a lacquer cabinet.

"Take it to him." He threw the key down in front of Hiyoshi. Vexed at the loss of the precious water pitcher, Sutejiro could not bring himself to praise Hiyoshi at all, even though he thought the scheme was well devised for a boy of his age.

Hiyoshi went alone to the storehouse. He came out holding a wooden box and returned the key to the hand of his master, saying, "It would be best if you put out the light and quietly went back to bed. You needn't worry."

When he brought the box to Tenzo, the bandit, only half believing what was happening, opened it and examined the contents carefully. "Hm, this is it," he said. The lines of his face softened.

"You and your men should get out of here fast. When I was searching for this in the storehouse just now, I lit a candle. Kato and his samurai are probably waking up at this very moment, and will soon start to make their rounds."

Tenzo made hastily for the gate. "You come and call on me in Mikuriya anytime. I'll take you on." With these words he disappeared into the darkness.

The fearful night was over.

It was about noon of the following day. Because it was the first week of the New Year, an endless procession of guests, coming in twos and threes, made their way to the main house. Yet the atmosphere in the pottery shop was strangely uneasy. Sutejiro was moody and sullen, and his usually cheerful wife was nowhere to be seen.

Ofuku quietly went to his mother's room and sat down. She had not fully recovered from the nightmare of the previous night and lay in bed, her face a sickly white.

"Mother, I've just now come from talking with Father. It's going to be all right."

"Really? What did he say?"

"At first he was skeptical, but when I told him about Hiyoshi's behavior and the time when he grabbed me behind the house and threatened me, saying he'd call in the bandits of Mikuriya, he was surprised and seemed to think again."

"Did he say he'd dismiss him soon?"

"No. He said he still considered him to be a promising little monkey, so I asked him if he was of a mind to raise a thief's tool."

"From the very first, I disliked the look in that boy's eyes."

"I mentioned that too, and finally he said that if no one got on with him, there was no other recourse but to dismiss him. He said that because he'd taken charge of him from Kato of Yabuyama, it would be difficult for him to do it. He thought it would be better if we dealt with the matter and found some inoffensive pretext to dismiss him."

"Good. It's gotten to the point where I can't bear to have that monkey-faced boy working here for even half a day more. What's he doing now?"

"He's packing goods in the warehouse. Can I tell him you want to see him?"

"No, please don't. I can't stand the sight of him. Now that your father's agreed, wouldn't it be just as well if you told him that he's being dismissed as of today and sent him home?"

"All right," said Ofuku, but he was a little frightened. "What shall I do about his pay?"

"From the beginning, we haven't been held by any promise to put aside wages for him. And although he's not much of a worker, we've fed and clothed him. Even that is nore than he deserves. Oh well, let him keep the clothes he's wearing, and give him two measures of salt."

Ofuku was too afraid to say this to Hiyoshi all by himself, so he took another man with him to the warehouse. He peered inside and saw that Hiyoshi, working alone, was covered with pieces of straw from head to toe.

“Yes? what do you want?" Hiyoshi answered in an unusually energetic voice, bounding up to Ofuku. Thinking that talking about the events of the previous night wasn't a good idea, he had not told anyone about it, but he was very proud of himself—so much so that he secretly expected his master's praise.

Ofuku, accompanied by the brawniest of the shop's clerks, the one who most intimidated Hiyoshi, said, "Monkey, you can go today."

"Go where?" Hiyoshi asked in surprise.

"Home. You still have one, don't you?"

"I do, but—"

"You're dismissed as of today. You can keep your clothes."

"We're giving you this because of the mistress's kindness," said the clerk, holding out the salt and the bundle of Hiyoshi's clothes. "Since you don't have to pay your respects, you can leave right away."

Stunned, Hiyoshi felt the blood rush to his face. The anger in his eyes seemed to leap out at Ofuku. Stepping back, Ofuku took the bundle of clothes and the bag of salt from the clerk, put them on the ground, and hurriedly walked away. From the look in Hiyoshi's eyes, it seemed that he might chase after the retreating Ofuku, but actually couldn't see a thing; he was blinded by his tears. He remembered his mother's tear-stained face when she had warned him that if he was dismissed once more, she wouldn't be able to face anyone, and that it would be a disgrace for her brother-in-law. The memory of her face and body, so haggard from poverty and childbearing, made him sniff back his tears. His nose stopped running, but he stood there motionless for a moment, not knowing what to do next. His blood seethed with anger.

"Monkey," called one of the workers, "what's the matter? You messed up again, hhh? He told you to leave, didn't he? You're fifteen, and wherever you go they'll give you your meals at least. Be a man and stop blubbering."

Without stopping their work, the other workers made fun of him. Their laughter and jeers filled his ears, and he resolved not to cry in front of them. Instead, he swung around to face them, baring his white teeth.

"Who's blubbering? I'm sick and tired of this boring old shop. This time I'm going to serve a samurai!" Fixing the bundle of clothes on his back, he tied the bag of salt to a piece of bamboo and shouldered it jauntily.

"Going to serve a samurai!" jeered one of the workers. "What a way to say good-bye!” They all laughed.

Nobody hated Hiyoshi, but no one felt sorry for him either. For his part, once he had taken his first step beyond the earthen wall, his heart filled with the clear blue of the sky. He felt he had been set free.

* * *

Kato Danjo had fought at the battle of Azukizaka in the autumn of the preceding year. Impatient to distinguish himself, he had dashed into the midst of the Imagawa forces and had been so badly injured that he had been forced to come home for good. Nowadays he slept all the time in the house at Yabuyama. As the days became colder toward the end of the year, the spear wound in his stomach gave him constant trouble.  He was always groaning with pain.

Oetsu took good care of her husband, and that day she was washing his pus-stained undergarments in a stream that ran through their compound. She heard a carefree voice ainging, and wondered who it might be. Annoyed, she stood up and looked around. Although the house was only halfway up Komyoji Hill, from inside the earthen wall it was possible to see the road at the foot of the hill, and beyond it the farmland of Nakamura, he Shonai River, and the wide Owari Plain.

It was bitterly cold. The New Year's sun was sinking hazily toward the horizon, bringing an end to another day. The singer's voice was loud, as if he had experienced neither the harshness of the world nor any human suffering. The song was a popular tune from the end of the last century, but here in Owari, farmers' daughters had corrupted it into a spinning song.

Well, can that be Hiyoshi? she asked herself as the figure reached the foot of the hill. He carried a dirty cloth bundle on his back, and a bag hung from the end of a bamboo rod over his shoulder. She was surprised at how big he had gotten in such a short time, and that, although he had grown so much, he was still as happy-go-lucky as ever.

"Auntie! What are you doing standing out here?" Hiyoshi bobbed his head in salutation. His song gave a certain cadence to his step, and his voice, so totally unaffected, gave his greeting a certain humorous tone. His aunt's expression was clouded; she looked like someone who had forgotten how to laugh.

"What are you doing here? Have you come with a message for the priests at the Komyoji?"

Hard put to answer, Hiyoshi scratched his head.

"The pottery shop let me go. I came here thinking I'd better let my uncle know."

"What? Again?" Oetsu said, frowning. "You came here after being sent away again?"

Hiyoshi thought about telling her the reason, but somehow it did not seem to be worth the trouble. In a sweeter tone he said, "Is my uncle at home? If he is, would you let me talk with him, please?"

"Absolutely not! My husband was badly wounded in battle. We don't know whether today or tomorrow will be his last day. You're not to go near him." She spoke bluntly, her tone severe. "I really feel sorry for my sister, having a child like you."

When he heard his aunt's news, he was dispirited. "Well, I wanted to ask my uncle a favor, but I guess it's useless, isn't it?"

"What kind of favor?"

"Since he's a samurai, I thought he could find me a place in a samurai household."

"What in the world! How old are you now?"

"Fifteen."

"At fifteen, you should know a bit about the world."

"That's why I don't want to work in any old boring place. Auntie, do you suppose there's an opening somewhere?"

"How should I know?" Oetsu glared at him, her eyes full of reproach. "A samurai household doesn't accept a man if he doesn't fit in with the family traditions. What are they going to do with a wild, carefree boy like you?"

Just then, a maidservant approached and said, "Madam, please come quickly. Your husband's pain is worse again."

Without another word, Oetsu ran to the house. Abandoned, Hiyoshi gazed at the darkening clouds over Owari and Mino. After a while he went through the gate in the earthen wall and hung around outside the kitchen. What he wanted most was to go home to Nakamura and see his mother, but he was held back by the thought of his stepfather who made him feel that the fence around his own house was made of thorns. He decide that his first priority was to find an employer. He had come to Yabuyama out of prudence, thinking it proper to inform his benefactor, but with Danjo in so serious a condtion, he was at a loss as to what to do next—and he was hungry.

While he was wondering where he would sleep from that night on, something so wrapped itself around his cold leg. He looked down to see a little kitten. Hiyoshi picked up and sat next to the kitchen door. The waning sun cast a cold light over them.

"Is your stomach empty too?" he asked. The cat shivered as he held it to his chest, Feeling the warmth of Hiyoshi's body, it began to lick his face.

"There, there," he said, turning his head away. He did not particularly like cats, but on that day the kitten was the only living creature to show him any affection.

Suddenly Hiyoshi pricked up his ears. The cat's eyes, too, widened with surprise. From a room next to the veranda had come the shrill cry of a man in pain. Presently, Oetsu came into the kitchen. Her eyes were swollen with tears, which she dried on her sleeve while stirring a medicinal concoction on the stove.

"Auntie," Hiyoshi began cautiously while petting the cat, "this kitten's stomach is empty and it's shivering. If you don't give it some food, it'll die." He avoided mentioning his own stomach. Oetsu ignored the remark.

"Are you still here?" she asked. "It'll soon be night, but I'm not letting you stay in this house."

She hid her tears with her sleeve. The beauty of the samurai's young wife, who h been so happy just two or three years before, had faded like a flower beaten by the rain. Hiyoshi, still holding the kitten, thought about his hunger and the bed that was beyond his reach. As he looked at his aunt, he suddenly noticed there was something different her appearance.

"Auntie! Your belly is big. Are you pregnant?"

Oetsu raised her head with a start as though her cheek had been slapped. The sudden question was completely out of place.

"Just like a little boy!" she said. "You shouldn't ask such forward questions. You're disgusting!" Exasperated, she added, "Go home quickly while there's still some light. Go to Nakamura or anywhere! Right now I don't care what you do." Swallowing her own choked voice, she disappeared into the house.

"I'll go," Hiyoshi muttered, and stood up to go, but the cat was not willing to surrenderr the warmth of his chest. At that moment a maidservant brought out a little bowl cold rice in bean paste soup, showed it to the cat, and called it outside. It promptly abandoned Hiyoshi to follow after the food. Hiyoshi watched the cat and its food with mouth watering, but it seemed no one was going to offer him anything to eat. He made up his mind to go home. But when he got to the entrance of the garden, he was challenged by someone with a keen sense of hearing.

"Who's out there?" asked a voice from the sickroom.

Rooted to the spot, Hiyoshi knew it was Danjo and promptly answered. Then, thinking the time had come, he told Danjo that he had been dismissed from the pottery shop.

"Oetsu, open the door!"

Oetsu tried to change his mind, arguing that the evening wind would make him cold and that his wounds would ache. She made no move to open the sliding door, until Danjo lost his temper.

"Fool!" he shouted. "What difference does it make if I live another ten or twenty days? Open it!"

Weeping, Oetsu did as she was told and said to Hiyoshi, "You'll only make him worse. Pay your respects and then leave."

Hiyoshi stood facing the sickroom and bowed. Danjo was leaning against some piled-up bedding.

"Hiyoshi, you've been dismissed from the pottery shop?"

"Yes, sir."

"Hm. That's all right."

"What?" Hiyoshi said, puzzled.

"There isn't the least bit of shame in being dismissed, as long as you haven't been disloyal or unjust."

"I see."

"Your house, too, was formerly a samurai house. Samurai, Hiyoshi."

"Yes, sir."

"A samurai does not work just for the sake of a meal. He is not a slave to food. He lives for his calling, for duty and service. Food is something extra, a blessing from heaven. Don't become the kind of man who, in pursuit of his next meal, spends his life in confusion."

* * *

It was already close to midnight.

Kochiku, who was a sickly baby, was suffering from some childhood illness and had been crying almost incessantly. He was lying on bed of straw and had finally stopped nursing.

"If you get up, you'll freeze, it's so cold," Otsumi said to her mother. "Go to sleep."

"How can I, when your father isn't home yet?"

Onaka got up, and she and Otsumi sat by the hearth, working diligently on handi­work left unfinished that evening.

"What's he doing? Isn't he coming back again tonight?"

"Well, it is New Year's."

"But no one in this house—and especially you—has celebrated it with so much as a single millet cake. And all the time we have to work in the cold like this."

"Well, men have their own pastimes."

"Although we go on calling him master, he doesn't work. He only drinks sake. When he does come home, he abuses you all the time. It makes me mad."

Otsumi was of an age when a woman would ordinarily go off to get married, but she would not leave her mother's side. She knew about their money problems, and not even in her dreams did she think of rouge and powder, much less of a New Year's dress.

"Please don't talk like that," Onaka said in tears. "Your father isn't reliable, but Hiyoshi will become respectable someday. We'll get you married to a good man, although you can't say your mother has picked her own husbands well."

"Mother, I don't want to get married. I want to stay with you forever."

"A woman shouldn't have to live like that. Chikuami doesn't know it, but when Yaemon was crippled, we put aside a string of coins from the money we received from his lord, thinking that it would be enough for your marriage. And I've collected more than seven bales of waste silk to weave a kimono for you."

"Mother, I think someone's coming."

"Your father?"

Otsumi stretched her neck to see who it was. "No."

"Who then?"

"I don't know. Be quiet." Otsumi swallowed hard, suddenly feeling uneasy.

"Mother, are you there?" Hiyoshi called out of the darkness. He stood stock-still, making no move to step up into the other room.

"Hiyoshi?"

"Uh-huh."

"At this time of night?"

"I was dismissed from the pottery shop."

"Dismissed?"

"Forgive me. Please, Mother, forgive me," he sobbed.

Onaka and Otsumi nearly tripped over their feet in their haste to greet him.

"What will you do now?" Onaka asked. "Don't just stand there like that, come inside." She took Hiyoshi's hand, but he shook his head.

"No, I have to go soon. If I spend even a single night in this house, I won't want leave you again."

Although Onaka did not want Hiyoshi to come back to this poverty-stricken house, she could not bear to think of him going right back out into the night. Her eyes opened wide. "Where are you going?" she asked.

"I don't know, but this time I'll serve a samurai. Then I'll be able to set both of your minds at rest."

"Serve a samurai?" Onaka whispered.

"You said you didn't want me to become a samurai, but that's what I really want to do. My uncle at Yabuyama said the same thing. He said now's the time."

"Well, you should talk this over with your stepfather too."

"I don't want to see him," Hiyoshi said, shaking his head. "You should forget about me for the next ten years. Sis, it's no good for you not to get married. But be patient, all right? When I become a great man, I'll clothe our mother in silk, and buy you a sash of patterned satin for your wedding."

Both women were weeping because Hiyoshi had grown up enough to say such things. Their hearts were like lakes of tears in which their bodies would drown.

"Mother, here are the two measures of salt the pottery shop paid me. I earned it working for two years. Sis, put it in the kitchen." Hiyoshi put down the bag of salt.

"Thank you," said his mother, bowing to the bag. "This is salt you've earned by going out into the world for the first time."

Hiyoshi was satisfied. Looking at the happy face of his mother, he was so happy himself that he felt as if he were floating. He swore he would make her even happier in the future. So that's it! This is my family's salt, Hiyoshi thought. No, not just my family's, but the village's. No, better yet, it's the salt of the realm.

"I guess it'll be quite a while before I'm back," Hiyoshi said, backing toward the outer door, but his eyes did not move from Onaka and Otsumi. He already had one foot out the door when Otsumi suddenly leaned forward and said, "Wait, Hiyoshi! Wait." She then turned to her mother. "The string of money you just told me about. I don't need it. I don't want to get married, so please give it to Hiyoshi."

Stifling a sob in her sleeve, Onaka fetched the string of coins and handed them to Hiyoshi, who looked at them and said, "No, I don't need them." He held the coins out to his mother.

Otsumi, speaking with the compassion of an older sister, asked, "What are you going to do out in the world without money?"

"Mother, rather than this, won't you give me the sword Father carried, the one grandfather had made?"

His mother reacted as though she had been struck in the chest. She said, "Money will keep you alive. Please don't ask for that sword."

"Don't you have it anymore?" Hiyoshi asked.

"Ah… no." His mother admitted bitterly that it had long since been sold to pay for Chikuami's sake. "Well, it doesn't matter. There's still that rusty sword in the storage shed, isn't there?"

"Well… if you want that one."

"It's all right if I take it?" Though he cared about his mother's feelings, Hiyoshi persisted. He remembered how badly he had wanted the shabby old sword at the age of six, and how he had made his mother cry. Now she was resigned to the idea of his growing up into what she had prayed he would never become—a samurai.

"Oh, well, take it. But Hiyoshi, never face another man and draw it from its scabbard. Otsumi, please go get it."

"That's all right. I'll go."

Hiyoshi ran into the storage shed. He took down the sword from the beam where it hung. As he tied it to his side, he remembered that six-year-old boy in tears, long years past. In that instant, he felt that he had grown up. "Hiyoshi, Mother wants you," said Otsumi, looking into the shed. Onaka had set a candle in the small shrine on the shelf. In a small wooden dish she had put a few grains of millet and a small pile of the salt Hiyoshi had brought. She joined her hands in prayer. Hiyoshi came in, and she told him to sit down. She took down a razor from the shrine. Hiyoshi's eyes opened wide. "What are you going to do?" he asked.

“I'm giving you your coming-of-age ceremony. Though we can't do it formally, we'll celebrate your departure into the world." She shaved the front of Hiyoshi's head. She then soaked some new straw in water and tied his hair back with it. Hiyoshi was never to forget this experience. And while the roughness of his mother's hands as they brushed his cheeks and ears saddened him, he was conscious of another feeling. Now I'm like everybody else, he thought. An adult.

He could hear a stray dog barking. In the darkness of a country at war with itself, it seemed that the only thing that grew greater was the barking of dogs. Hiyoshi went outside.

"Well, I'm off." He could say nothing else, not even "take care of yourselves"—it stuck in his throat.

His mother bowed low in front of the shrine. Otsumi, holding the crying Kochiku came running out after him.

"Good-bye," Hiyoshi said. He did not look back. His figure got smaller and smaller until it disappeared from sight. Perhaps because of the frost, the night was very bright.

Koroku's Gun

A few miles from Kiyosu, less than ten miles west of Nagoya, was the village of Hachisuka. Upon entering the village, a hat-shaped hill was visible from almost any direction. In the thick summer groves at noon, only the song of the cicadas could be heard; at night the silhouettes of large bats on the wing swept across the face of the moon.

"Yo!"

"Yo!" came the reply, like an echo, from within the grove.

The moat that took its waters from the Kanie River passed around the cliffs and large trees on the hill. If you didn't look closely, you probably wouldn't notice that the water was full of the dark blue-green algae found in old natural ponds. The algae clung to the weathered stone ramparts and earthen walls that had protected the land for a hundred years, and, along with it, the descendants of the lords of the area, and their power and livelihood.

From the outside, it was almost impossible to guess how many thousands or even tens of thousands of acres of residential land were on the hill. The mansion belonged to a powerful provincial clan of the village of Hachisuka, and its lords had gone under the childhood name of Koroku for many generations. The incumbent lord was called Hachisuka Koroku.

"Yooo! Open the gate!" The voices of four or five men came from beyond the moat. One of them was Koroku.

If the truth were known, neither Koroku nor his forebears possessed the pedigree they boasted of, nor had they held rights to the land and its administration. They were a powerful provincial clan, but nothing more. Though Koroku was known as a lord, and these men as his retainers, there was, in fact, something rough and ready about this household. A certain intimacy was natural between the head of a household and his

retainers, but Koroku's relationship with his men was more like that which existed between a gang boss and his henchmen.

"What's he doing?" Koroku muttered.

"Gatekeeper, what's keeping you?" yelled a retainer, not for the first time.

"Yooo!"

This time, they heard the gatekeeper's response, and the wooden gate opened with  a thud.

"Who is it?" They were challenged from the left and right by men carrying metal lamps shaped like bells on stalks, which could be carried on the battlefield or in the rain.

"It's Koroku," he answered, bathed in the lamplight.

"Welcome home."

The men identified themselves as they passed through the gate.

"Inada Oinosuke."

"Aoyama Shinshichi."

"Nagai Hannojo."

"Matsubara Takumi."

They proceeded with heavy footsteps down a wide, dark corridor and into the interior of the house. All along the corridor, the faces of servants, the women of the hous hold, wives and children—the many individuals who made up this extended family-greeted the chief of the clan, come back from the outside world. Koroku returned the greetings, giving each at least a glance, and arriving at the main hall, he sat down heavily on a round straw mat. The light from a small lamp clearly showed the lines on his face. Was he in a bad mood? wondered the women anxiously, while they brought water, tea and black bean cakes.

"Oinosuke?" Koroku said after a while, turning to the retainer sitting farthest away from him. "We were well shamed this evening, were we not?"

"We were," Oinosuke agreed.

The four men sitting with Koroku looked bitter. Koroku seemed to have no outlet for his bad mood. "Takumi, Hannojo. What do you think?"

"About what?"

"This evening's embarrassment! Wasn't the name of the Hachisuka clan shamefully blackened?"

The four men withdrew into a deep silence. The night was sultry, with no hint of a breeze. The smoke from the mosquito-repellent incense drifted into their eyes.

Earlier that day, Koroku had received an invitation from an important Oda retainer to attend a tea ceremony. He had never had a taste for such things, but the guests would all be prominent people in Owari, and it would be a good chance to meet them. If he had turned down the invitation, he would have been ridiculed. People would have said, "How pretentious they are, putting on airs. Why, he's nothing more than the leader of a gang of ronin. He was probably afraid to show his ignorance of the tea ceremony."

Koroku and four of his followers had gone to the affair in a very dignified manner. During the tea ceremony, an akae water pitcher had caught the eye of one of the guests and in the course of the conversation, a comment had slipped carelessly from his lips.

"How odd," he said. "I'm sure I've seen this pitcher at the house of Sutejiro, the pottery merchant. Isn't it the famous piece of akae ware that was stolen by bandits?"

The host, who was inordinately fond of the pitcher, was naturally shocked. "That's absurd! I only recentiy bought this from a shop in Sakai for nearly one thousand pieces of gold!" He even went so far as to show a receipt.

"Well," the guest persisted, "the thieves must have sold it to a Sakai dealer, and through one transaction after another it finally came to your honored house. The man who broke into the pottery merchant's house was Watanabe Tenzo of Mikuriya. There is no doubt about that."

A chill went through the assembled guests. Clearly the man who spoke so freely knew nothing about the family tree of his fellow guest, Hachisuka Koroku. But the master of the house and quite a number of the other guests were well aware that Watanabe Tenzo was Koroku's nephew and one of his chief allies. Before he left that day, Koroku swore to investigate the matter fully. Koroku had felt himself dishonored, and had returned home angry and ashamed. None of his dejected kinsmen could come up with a plan. If it had been a matter involving their own families or retainers, they could have dealt with it, but the incident revolved around Tenzo, who was Koroku's nephew. Tenzo's household in Mikuriya was an offshoot of this one in Hachisuka, and he always had twenty to thirty ronin in residence.

Koroku was even angrier because he was related to Tenzo. "This is outrageous," he growled, feeling contempt for Tenzo's evil ways. "I've been stupid, ignoring Tenzo's recent behavior. He's taken to dressing up in fine clothes and keeping a number of women. He's brought the family name into disrepute. We'll have to get rid of him. As it is, the Hachisuka clan will be seen to be no different from a band of thieves or a bunch of shameless ronin. A sad state of affairs for a family that is usually regarded as one of the leading provincial clans. Even I, Hachisuka Koroku, hear in public that I am the leader of bandits."

Hannojo and Oinosuke looked down at the ground, embarrassed at suddenly seeing tears of grief in Koroku's eyes.

"Listen, all of you!" Koroku looked directly at his men. "The roof tiles of this man­sion bear the crest of the manji cross. Although it is now covered with moss, the crest has been passed down from the time of my distant ancestor, Lord Minamoto Yorimasa, to whom it was awarded by Prince Takakura for raising an army loyal to him. Our family once served the shoguns, but from the time of Hachisuka Taro, we lost our influence. So now we are merely another provincial clan. Surely we're not going to rot away in the country and do nothing about it. No, I, Hachisuka Koroku, have vowed that the time has come! I have been waiting for the day when I might restore our family name and show the world a thing or two."

"This is what you've always said."

"I have told you before that you must think before you act, and protect the weak. My nephew's character has not improved. He has broken into the house of a merchant and done the work of a thief in the night." Chewing his lip, Koroku realized that the matter had to be settled. "Oinosuke, Shinshichi. The two of you will go to Mikuriya, tonight. Bring Tenzo here but don't tell him the reason. He has a number of armed men with him. He's not a man, as they say, to let himself be captured with a single length of rope."

The following dawn came amid the chirping of birds in the forested hills. One house among the fortifications caught the morning sun early.

"Matsu, Matsu!"

Matsunami, Koroku's wife, peeked into the bedroom. Koroku was awake, lying on his side under the mosquito netting.

"Have the men I sent to Mikuriya last night returned yet?"

"No, not yet."

"Hm," Koroku grunted, a concerned look on his face. Although his nephew was a villain who did nothing but evil, he had a sharp mind. If this turned ugly, would he sense it and try to escape? They're rather late, he thought again.

His wife untied the mosquito netting. Their son, Kameichi, who was playing at the edge of the net, was not quite two years old.

"Hey! Come here." Koroku embraced the child and held him at arm's length. As plump as the children in Chinese paintings, the boy felt heavy, even in his father's arms.

"What's the matter? Your eyelids are red and swollen." Koroku licked at Kameichi's eyes. The boy, turning restive, pulled and scratched at his father's face.

"He must have been eaten up by the mosquitoes," his mother replied.

"If it's just mosquitoes, it's nothing to worry about."

"He frets so, even when he's asleep. He keeps slipping out from under the net."

"Don't let him get cold when he's asleep."

"Of course I won't."

"And be careful of smallpox."

"Don't even talk about it."

"He's our first child. You might say he's the prize of our first campaign."

Koroku was young and sturdy. He shook off the pleasure of the moment and strode out of the room, like a man who had some great purpose to achieve. He was not one to sit indoors and peacefully sip his morning tea. When he had changed his clothes and washed his face, he went into the garden, walking with great strides toward the sound of hammering.

Along one side of the narrow path were two small smithies that had been built in a area where huge trees had been fairly recently cut down. This was the middle of a forest where no ax, until now, had touched a tree since the days of Koroku's forefathers.

The gunsmith, Kuniyoshi, whom Koroku had secretly summoned from the city of Sakai, was at work with his apprentices.

"How's it going?" he asked. Kuniyoshi and his men prostrated themselves on the dirt floor. "No luck yet, eh? Are you still unable to copy the firearm you're using as a model?”

"We've tried this and we've tried that. We've gone without sleep and food, but…"

Koroku nodded. Just then a low-ranking retainer came up to him and said, "My lord the two men you sent to Mikuriya have just come back."

"Have they, now?"

"Yes, my lord."

"Did they bring Tenzo back with them?"

"Yes, my lord."

"Good!" Koroku nodded approvingly. "Have him wait."

"Inside?"

"Yes. I'll be there soon."

Koroku was an able strategist—the clan depended on him for it—but there was another side to his character: a tendency to be softhearted. He could be stern, but he could be moved by tears, especially where his own flesh and blood were concerned. He had made up his mind, though: he must do away with his nephew this morning. But he seemed to hesitate, and stayed for quite some time watching Kuniyoshi work.

"It's only natural," he said. "After all, firearms just arrived here seven or eight years go. Since then, samurai clans in all the provinces have vied with each other to produce guns or buy them from the ships of the European barbarians. Here in Owari we have a tactical advantage. There must be many country samurai in the north and east who have never even seen firearms. You haven't made one before, either, so take your time and work carefully by trial and error. If you can make one, you can make a hundred, and we'll have them on hand for later."

"My lord!" The retainer came back and knelt on the dew-covered ground. "They're waiting for you."

Koroku turned to him. "I'll be there soon. They can wait a bit longer."

While Koroku was determined to make the costly sacrifice of punishing his nephew or justice' sake, he was torn by a conflict between his sense of what was right and his own feelings. As he was about to leave, he spoke to Kuniyoshi again, "Within the year you'll be able to make ten or twenty serviceable firearms, won't you?"

"Yes," said the smith, who, conscious of his responsibility, had a serious expression on his sooty face. "If I can make one that I feel is right, I can make forty or even a hundred."

"It's the first one that's difficult, eh?"

"You spend so much money on me."

"Don't worry about it."

"Thank you, my lord."

"I don't suppose the fighting will let up next year, the year after that, or in the years following…. When the grasses on this earth all wither, and the buds begin to sprout again—well, do the best you can to finish it quickly."

"I'll put everything I have into it."

"Remember, it's to be done in secret."

"Yes, my lord."

"The sound of the hammer is a little too loud. Can you work so it won't be heard outside the moat?"

"I'll be careful about that, too."

On his way out of the smithy, Koroku saw a gun propped next to the bellows. "And that?" he asked, pointing to it. "Is it the model, or one that you've made?"

"It's brand-new."

"Well, let me see it."

"I'm afraid it's not quite ready for your inspection yet."

"Never mind. I have a good target for it. Will it fire?"

"The ball flies out, but no matter what I do, I can't make the mechanism engage as it does in the original. I'll try harder to make something that will work."

"Testing is also an important job. Let me have it."

Taking it from Kuniyoshi's hands, Koroku rested the barrel of the gun on his crooked elbow and made as if aiming it at a target. Just then, Inada Oinosuke appeared at the door of the smithy.

"Oh, you haven't finished yet."

Koroku turned toward Oinosuke with the butt of the gun pressed against his ribs.

"Well?"

"I think you should come quickly. We were able to talk Tenzo into coming along with us, but he seems to think it strange and acts nervous. If things go wrong, he may tun into the tiger breaking out of his cage, as the proverb goes."

"Very well, I'm coming."

Handing the gun to Oinosuke, Koroku walked with long strides down the path through the forest.

Watanabe Tenzo sat just outside the study wondering what was going on. What kind of emergency had caused him to be summoned here? Aoyama Shinshichi, Nagai Hannojo, Matsubara Takumi, and Inada Oinosuke—the trusted retainers of the Hachisuka clan—all sat next to him, carefully observing his every movement. Tenzo had begun to feel uneasy as soon as he had arrived. He was thinking of making up some excuse and leaving when he caught sight of Koroku in the garden.

"Ah, Uncle." Tenzo's greeting was accompanied by a forced smile.

Koroku looked impassively at his nephew. Oinosuke rested the butt of the gun on the ground.

"Tenzo, come out into the garden, won't you?" he said. His appearance was no different from normal. Tenzo was a little reassured.

"They told me to come quickly, said there was some urgent business to take care of.

"That's right."

"What sort of business?"

"Well, come over here."

Tenzo put on a pair of straw sandals and went out into the garden. Hannojo and Takumi went with him.

"Stand there," Koroku commanded, sitting down on a large rock and raising the gun Tenzo realized in an instant that his uncle was going to take aim at him, but there was nothing he could do. The other men stood around him, as inert as stones on a go board. The leader of the bandits of Mikuriya had been placed in check. His face went livid. Invisible flames of anger radiated from Koroku. The look on his face told Tenzo tha words would be useless.

"Tenzo!"

"Yes?"

"Surely you haven't forgotten the things I've told you over and over again?"

"I keep them firmly in my mind."

"You were born a human being in a world in chaos. The most shameful things are vanity in clothing, vanity in eating, and oppressing ordinary, peaceable people. The so-called great provincial clans do these things, and so do the ronin. The family of Hachisuka Koroku is not like them, and I believe I've already cautioned you about this."

"Yes, you have."

"Our family alone has pledged to harbor great hopes and fulfill them. We have vowed not to oppress the farmers, not to act like thieves, and if we become the rulers of a province, to see to it that prosperity is shared by all."

"Yes, we have."

"Who has broken this pledge?" Koroku asked. Tenzo was mute. "Tenzo! You have abused the military strength I have entrusted to you. You have put it to evil use, doing the work of a thief in the night. It was you who broke into the pottery shop in Shinkawa and stole the akae pitcher, wasn't it?"

Tenzo looked as if he was about to make a break for it.

Koroku stood up and thundered, "You swine! Sit down! Do you want to run away?"

"I… I won't run." His voice quavered. He slumped down on the grass and sat as though fastened to the ground.

"Tie him up!" Koroku barked to his retainers. Matsubara Takumi and Aoyama Shinshichi were instantiy on Tenzo. They twisted his hands behind his back and tied them with his sword knot. When Tenzo clearly understood that his crime had been exposed and that he was in danger, his pale face became a little more resolute and defiant.

"U-u-uncle, what are you going to do with me? I know you're my uncle, but this is beyond reason."

"Shut up!"

"I swear, I don't remember doing what you're talking about."

"Shut up!"

"Who told you such a thing?"

"Are you going to be quiet or not?"

"Uncle… you are my uncle, aren't you? If there was such a rumor going around, couldn't you have asked me about it?"

"Never mind the cowardly excuses."

"But for the head of a large clan to act on rumors without investigating them…"

Needless to say, this whining was repugnant to Koroku. He raised the gun and rested it in the crook of his elbow.

"You scum. You're just the living target I need to try out this new weapon that Kuniyoshi's just made for me. You two, take him over to the fence and tie him to a tree."

Shinshichi and Takumi gave Tenzo a shove and grabbed him by the scruff of the neck. They marched him all the way to the far end of the garden, which was far enough away that a poor archer would not be able to shoot an arrow the entire distance.

"Uncle! I have something to say. Hear me out, just once!" Tenzo yelled. His voice, and the despair in it, were plain for all to hear. Koroku ignored him. Oinosuke had brought a fuse. Koroku took it and, after loading a ball into the musket, took aim at his frantically screaming nephew.

"I did wrong! I confess! Please hear me out!"

As unimpressed as their lord, the men stood silently, braced themselves, and watched. After several minutes, Tenzo fell silent. His head hung down. Perhaps he was contem­plating death. Or maybe he was a broken man.

"It's no good!" Koroku murmured. He took his eyes from the target. "Even when I pull the trigger, the ball does not come out. Oinosuke, run over to the smithy and get Kuniyoshi."

When the smith came, Koroku held out the gun to him, saying, "I tried to fire just now, but it doesn't work. Fix it."

Kuniyoshi examined the musket. "It cannot be repaired easily, my lord," he said.

"How long will it take?"

"Maybe I can do it by this evening."

"Can't you do it sooner than that? The living target I'm going to try it out on is waiting."

Only then did the blacksmith realize that Tenzo was meant to be the target. "Your… your nephew?" he stammered.

Koroku ignored the remark. "You're a gunsmith now. It would be good if you your energy into making a gun. If you could finish it even one day earlier than planned, that would be good. Tenzo's an evil man, but he is a relative, and instead of dying a dog’s death, he'll have made a contribution if he's put to some use in trying out a gun. Now on with your job."

"Yes, my lord."

"What are you waiting for?" Koroku's eyes were like signal fires. Even without looking up, Kuniyoshi felt their heat. He took the gun and scurried off to the smithy.

"Takumi, give some water to our living target," Koroku ordered. "Have at least three men stand guard over him until the gun is repaired." Then he went back to the main house to have breakfast.

Takumi, Oinosuke, and Shinshichi also left the garden. Nagai Hannojo was to return to his own home that day, and he soon announced his departure. At about the same time, Matsubara Takumi left on an errand, so only Inada Oinosuke and Aoyama Shinshich remained in the residence on the hill.

The sun climbed higher. It got hotter. The cicadas droned, and the only living creatures moving in the broiling heat were ants crawling over the baked paving stones in the garden. The furious sound of hammering erupted spasmodically from the smithy. How must it have sounded to Tenzo's ears?

"Isn't the gun ready yet?" Each time the stern voice came from Koroku's room, Aoyama Shinshichi ran to the smithy through the scorching heat. He would come back to the veranda each time, saying, "It'll take a little longer," and then report on how the work was progressing.

Koroku napped fitfully, his arms and legs outstretched. Shinshichi, too, tired from the previous day's excitement, finally dozed off.

They were roused by the voice of one of the guards shouting, "He's escaped!"

"Master Shinshichi! He's escaped! Come quickly!"

Shinshichi ran out into the garden barefoot.

"The master's nephew has killed two guards and run away!" The man's face was exactly the color of clay.

Shinshichi ran along with the guard, shouting back over his shoulder, "Tenzo's killed two guards and escaped!"

"What?" shouted Koroku, suddenly awakened from his nap. The chirping of the cicadas went on uninterrupted. Almost in a single motion, he jumped to his feet and put on the sword that was always by his side when he slept. Bounding off the veranda, he soon caught up with Shinshichi and the guard.

When they got to the tree, Tenzo was nowhere to be seen. At the base of the tree lay a single piece of unknotted hemp rope. About ten paces away, a corpse lay facedown. They found the other guard propped against the foot of the wall, his head split open like a ripe pomegranate. The two bodies were drenched with blood, looking as though someone had splashed it all over them. The heat of the day had soon dried the blood on the grass, blackening it to the color of lacquer; the smell had attracted swarms of flies.

"Guard!"

"Yes, my lord." The man threw himself at Koroku's feet.

"Tenzo had both hands tied with his sword knot and was bound to the tree with a hemp rope. How did he manage to slip out of the rope? As far as I can see, it hasn't been cut.

"Yes, well… we untied it."

"Who?"

"One of the dead guards."

"Why was he untied? And with whose permission?"

"At first we didn't listen to him, but your nephew said he had to relieve himself. He said he couldn't stand it, and—"

"You fool!" Koroku roared at the guard, barely able to keep himself from stamping on the ground. "How could you fall for an old trick like that? You oaf!"

"Master, please forgive me. Your nephew told us you were a kind man at heart, and asked if we really believed you were going to kill your own nephew. He said he was being punished just to make an impression, and because you were conducting a full investigation, he would be forgiven by nightfall. Then he said that if we didn't listen to him, we rere going to suffer for making him suffer so. Finally, one of them untied him and went with him and the other guard, so that he might relieve himself in the shade of those trees over there."

"Well?"

"Then I heard a scream. He killed both of them, and I ran to the house to tell you what happened."

"Which way did he go?"

"The last time I saw him, he had his hands on top of the wall, so I suppose he went over it. I think I heard something hitting the water in the moat."

"Shinshichi, run him down. Get men onto the road to the village right away." After giving these orders, he himself dashed off in the direction of the front gate with frightening energy.

Kuniyoshi, covered in sweat, was unaware of what had happened and heedless of the passage of time. Only the gun existed for him, nothing else. Sparks from the forge flew about him. At long last he had fashioned the part he needed from iron filings. Relieved at having done his job, he cradled the musket in his arms. Still, he was not fully confident that the ball would come flying out of the barrel. He pointed the empty gun at the wall and tested it. As he pulled the trigger, it gave a satisfying click.

Ah, it seems to be all right, he thought. But it would be a great embarrassment 1 hand it over to Koroku and have him find yet another defect. He rammed gunpowder and a ball into the barrel, filled the primer pan, pointed the muzzle at the ground, an fired. With a loud report, the ball dug a small crater into the ground.

I've done it!

Thinking of Koroku, he reloaded the gun and hurried from the hut and along the path through the dense trees that led to the garden.

"Hey, there!" cried a man barely visible in the shadow of a tree.

Kuniyoshi stopped. "Who is it?" he asked.

"It's me."

"Who?"

"Watanabe Tenzo."

"Eh? The master's nephew!"

"Don't look so surprised. Though I can understand why. This morning I was tied up to a tree, ready to be used to try out a gun. And now here I am."

"What happened?"

"That doesn't concern you. It's a matter between uncle and nephew. He gave me good dressing down."

"He did, did he?"

"Listen, just now at Shirahata pond in the village, the farmers and some samurai from the neighborhood have gotten into a fight. My uncle, Oinosuke, Shinshichi, and their men went over there. I'm supposed to follow them right away. Were you able to finish the gun?"

“I was.”

"Let me have it."

"Are those Lord Koroku's orders?"

"Yes. Give it to me. If the enemy escapes, we won't be able to try it out."

Tenzo snatched the gun from Kuniyoshi's hand and disappeared into the forest.

"This is odd," thought the blacksmith. He started after Tenzo, who was making his way through the trees along the outer wall. He saw him climb the wall and jump, landing just short of the other side of the moat. Up to his chest in the fetid water, he lost no time in splashing the rest of the way across like a wild animal.

"Ah! He's escaping! Help! Over here!" Kuniyoshi yelled as loud as he could from the top of the wall.

Tenzo crawled out of the water looking like a muddy rat and turned toward Kuniyoshi. He aimed the gun and fired.

The gun made a ghastly noise. Kuniyoshi's body tumbled from the earthen wall. Tenzo ran across the fields, bounding like a leopard in flight.

* * *

"Assemble!"

The notice was issued under the signature of the head of the clan, Hachisuka Koroku. By evening, the mansion was filled with samurai, both inside and outside the gate.

"A battle?"

"What do you suppose has happened?" they asked, excited by the prospect of fight­ing. Although they usually plowed their fields, sold silk cocoons, raised horses, and went to market just like ordinary farmers and merchants, fundamentally they were quite different from them. They gloried in their martial bloodlines and were discon­tented with their lot. If the opportunity presented itself, they would not hesitate to take up arms to challenge fate and create a storm. Men like these had been stalwarts of the clan for generations.

Oinosuke and Shinshichi stood outside the walls, giving directions.

"Go around to the garden."

"Don't make so much noise."

"Go through the main gate." The men were all armed with long battle swords; as members of a provincial clan, however, they were not in full armor, but wore only gaundets and shin guards.

"We're going into battle," one man guessed.

The borders of the Hachisuka domain were not clearly defined. These men belonged to no castle, nor had they sworn allegiance to any lord. They had neither clear allies nor enemies. But now and again they would go to war when the clan's lands were invaded, or when it entered into alliances with the local lord; or when it hired its men out as merce­naries and agitators to the lords of distant provinces. Some clan leaders called their troops out for money, but Koroku had never been tempted by personal gain. The neighboring Oda recognized this, as did the Tokugawa of Mikawa and the Imagawa of Suruga. The Hachisuka was only one among several powerful provincial families, but it had prestige enough that no other clan threatened its lands.

Notice having been given, the entire clan appeared at once. Gathered together in the spacious garden, they looked up at their leader. He stood on a man-made hill, as silent as a stone statue, under the moon hanging in the twilight sky. His armor was of black leather, and he wore a long sword at his side. Although his equipment seemed light, there was no mistaking the dignity of the head of a warrior clan.

To the hushed assembly of almost two hundred men, Koroku announced that as of that day Watanabe Tenzo was no longer a member of their clan. After clearly setting forth the circumstances, he apologized for his own unworthiness. "Our current predicament comes from my own negligence. For running away, Tenzo must be punished with death. We will leave no stone unturned, no blade of grass unparted. If we allow him to live, the Hachisuka will bear the mark of thieves for a hundred years. For the sake of our honor, for our ancestors and for our descendants, we must hunt Tenzo down. Do not think of him as my nephew. He is a traitor!"

As he finished his speech, a scout returned at a dead run. "Tenzo and his men are in Mikuriya," he reported. "They expect an attack and are fortifying the village."

When they learned that their enemy was Watanabe Tenzo, the men seemed a little dispirited, but on hearing the circumstances, they rallied to restore the honor of the clan. With resolute step they descended on the armory, where there was an astonishing array of weapons. In the past, weapons and armor had often been abandoned in the field after every battle. Now, with no end in sight to the civil war, and the country plunged into darkness and instability, weapons had become highly prized possessions. They could found in the house of any farmer, and, second only to foodstuffs, a spear or a sword could be sold for ready cash.

A considerable number of the weapons in the armory had been there almost since the clan was founded, and the store had increased rapidly in Koroku's time, but there were no firearms in it. The fact that Tenzo had run off with their only gun had made Koroku so furious that only action could quell his anger. He considered his nephew animal—cutting him to pieces was too good for him. He vowed he would not take off armor or sleep until he had Tenzo's head.

Koroku set out for Mikuriya at the head of his troops.

As they got close to the village the column halted. A scout was sent forward and came back to report that the redness in the night sky was caused by fires set by Tenzo and his men, who were plundering the village. When they moved on, they were met on the road by fleeing villagers carrying their children, the sick, and household goods, and leading their livestock. On meeting the men of Hachisuka, they became even more frightened

Aoyama Shinshichi reassured them. "We have not come to plunder," he said. I have come to punish of Watanabe Tenzo and his ruffians."

The villagers quieted down and gave vent to their resentment over Tenzo's atrocities His crimes did not stop at stealing a pitcher from Sutejiro. Besides collecting the annual land tax for the lord of the province, he had made his own rules and collected a second tax, calling it "protection money" for the rice paddies and fields. He had taken over the dams in the lakes and rivers, and had charged what he called "water money." If anyone dared voice discontent, Tenzo sent men to ravage his fields and paddies. Also, by threaening to massacre entire households, he put a damper on any ideas about secretly informing the lord of the province. In any event, the lord was too preoccupied with military matters to be concerned about such details as law and order.

Tenzo and his confederates did what they liked: they gambled, they slaughtered and ate cows and chickens on the shrine grounds, they kept women, and they turned the shrine into an armory.

"What has Tenzo's gang been up to tonight?" Shinshichi asked.

The villagers all spoke at once. It turned out that the rogues had started by taking spears and halberds from the shrine. They were drinking sake and screaming about fighting to the death, when suddenly they began looting the houses and setting them on fire. Finally they regrouped and ran away with their weapons, food, and anything of value. It seemed that by making a lot of noise about fighting to the death, they hoped to put off any would-be pursuers.

Have I been outmaneuvered? Koroku wondered. He stamped on the ground and ordered the villagers to return to their homes. His men followed, and together they tried get the fires under control. Koroku restored the desecrated shrine and, at dawn, bowed low in prayer.

"Although Tenzo represents only a branch of our family, his evil deeds have become the crimes of the entire Hachisuka clan. I ask forgiveness, and I swear that he will punished by death, that these villagers will be put at ease, and that I will make rich offerings to the gods of this shrine."

While he prayed, his troops stood quietly on either side.

"Can this be the leader of a gang of bandits?" the villagers asked one another. They were confused and suspicious, as well they might be, for in the name of the Hachisuka, Watanabe Tenzo had committed many crimes. Since he was Koroku's nephew, they gave a collective shudder, assuming that because this man was Tenzo's chief, he was like him. Koroku, for his part, knew that if he did not have the gods and the people on his side, he was bound to fail.

At last the men sent after Tenzo came back. "Tenzo has a force of about seventy men," they reported. "Their tracks show that they went into the mountains at Higashi Kasugai and are fleeing toward the Mino road."

Koroku issued commands: "Half of you will return to guard Hachisuka. Half of the remainder will stay here to help the villagers and maintain public order. The rest will go with me."

Having divided his forces, he had no more than forty or fifty men to go after Tenzo. After going through Komaki and Kuboshiki, they caught up with a part of the band. Tenzo had put lookouts along various roads, and when they saw they were being fol­lowed, his men began taking a roundabout route. There were reports that they were going down from the Seto peak to the village of Asuke.

It was around noon of the fourth day after the burning of Mikuriya. It was hot. The roads were steep, and Tenzo's men had to keep their armor on. The band was obviously tired of running. Along the roads they had abandoned packs and horses, gradually light­ening their load, and by the time they got to the ravine of the Dozuki River, they were famished, exhausted, and drenched with sweat. As they drank, Koroku's small force slid down both sides of the ravine in a pincer attack. Stones and boulders rained down on the fugitives, and the waters of the river soon ran red with blood. Some were run through; some were beaten to death; some were thrown into the river. These were men who ordi­narily were on good terms, and the blood ties—uncle and nephew, cousin and cousin— cut across factional lines. It was an attack of the clan against itself, but it was unavoidable. They really were one body of men, and for that very reason the roots of evil had to be cut out.

Koroku, with his peerless courage, was covered with the fresh blood of his kinsmen. He called out to Tenzo to show himself, but with no success. Ten of his men had fallen, but for the other side it was almost a massacre. But Tenzo was not found among the dead. It seemed he had deserted his men and, traveling along mountain paths, had man­aged his escape.

The swine! thought Koroku, grinding his teeth. He's heading for Kai.

Koroku himself was standing on one of the peaks when out of nowhere came the re­port of a single shot, which echoed through the mountains. The sound of the gun seemed to mock him. Tears coursed down his cheeks. At that moment he reflected that he and his nephew—who was nothing more than evil incarnate—were, after all, of the same blood. His tears were tears of regret for his own unworthiness. Bitterly discouraged, he tried to think the problem through and realized the day was far off when he could rise from the status of the head of a clan and become the ruler of a province. He had to admit he was incapable of that. If I don't even know how to control one of my own relatives… Strength alone isn't enough, if one doesn't have a governing policy, or household discipline. Quite unexpectedly, a bitter smile shone through his tears. That bastard has taught me something after all, he realized. And he gave the order to withdraw.

The force, now numbering little more than thirty men, reformed and descended from the Dozuki ravine to Koromo. They bivouacked just outside the town and, the following day, sent a messenger to the castle town of Okazaki. They received permissioin to pass through, but because it was already late when they started off, it was close to midnight before they reached Okazaki. Along the highways leading toward home were branch and main castles and stockades closely crowded together. There were also strategic checkpoints where a group of armed men could not pass. The journey by road would take many days, so they decided to take a boat down the Yahagi River, and then from Ohama to Handa. From Tokoname, once again they would travel by boat across the open water and then up the Kanie River to Hachisuka.

When they got to the Yahagi River it was midnight, and there was not a boat to be seen. The current was swift and the river wide. Frustrated, Koroku and his men came to a halt under some trees. Various men gave their opinions:

"If there's no boat to go downriver, we could take a ferry across and go along other bank."

"It's too late. Let's wait until morning."

What bothered Koroku most was that in order to camp here, they would have to go to Okazaki Castle to ask permission again.

"Look for a ferryboat," Koroku ordered. "If we can find just one and cross over the other side, by dawn we'll have covered the distance a boat might have taken downriver."

"But, sir, we haven't seen a ferryboat anywhere."

"Idiot! There's bound to be at least one boat around here. How else are people go to cross a river this size during the day? What's more, there should be scouting boats hidden among the reeds or in the high grass along the bank. Or boats to use if fighting disrupts the ferry service. Open your eyes and look!"

The men split into two groups, one going upstream, the other downstream.

"Ah. Here's one!" one man shouted from upstream, stopping in his tracks.

At a spot on the bank where the earth had been washed away during a flood, large purple willows with exposed roots stooped and bowed their branches over the water. The water was calm and dark, like a deep pool. A boat was tied up in the shadows under the trees.

"And it's usable."

The man jumped down and, planning to take the boat downstream, reached down to loosen the mooring rope wound around the roots of a willow. His hand stopped and he gazed fixedly into the boat, a small craft with a shallow draft, used for carrying baggage.  It was close to falling apart, dank with slime, and listing dangerously. Nevertheless, it could be used for the crossing. What held the soldier's attention was a man fast asleep under a rotting rush mat, snoring soundly. He wore strange clothes. Both his sleeves and hem were short, and under his dirty white shirting he wore leggings and coverings for the backs of his hands. He had straw sandals on his bare feet. His age was somewhere be­tween childhood and adulthood. He lay on his back under the open sky, the night dew on his eyebrows and eyelashes. He seemed to be at absolute peace with the world.

"Hey, you!" The soldier tried to awaken him, but when the man did not respond at all, he called to him again and tapped him lightly on the chest with the butt of his spear.

"Hey, you, wake up!"

Hiyoshi opened his eyes, grabbed the shaft of the spear with a shout, and stared back at the soldier.

The swirling water around the boat might almost have been a reflection of the state of Hiyoshi's life. On that frosty night in the first month of the previous year when he had taken leave of his mother and sister, he had told them he would be back when he became a great man. He had no desire to go from one job to another, apprenticing himself to merchants and artisans as he had done so far. What he wanted most was to serve a samu­rai. But his appearance was against him, and he had no evidence of his birth or lineage.

Kiyosu, Nagoya, Sumpu, Odawara—he had walked through all of them. He would sometimes screw up his courage and stand before the gate of a samurai residence, but all of his pleas were met with laughter and ridicule. Once he had even been chased away with a broom. His money was quickly running out, and he realized that the world was just as his aunt in Yabuyama had told him. Still, he refused to let go of his dream, believ­ing his aspirations were reasonable. He was not ashamed to tell anyone of his ambitions, even if he had to sleep out in the open, on the grass, or, like tonight, with water for his bed. How to make his mother, whom he imagined to be the unhappiest person in the world, the happiest, was what drove him on. And how could he do something for his poor sister, who thought she could never marry?

He had his own desires as well. His stomach never felt full, no matter how much he ate. Seeing large mansions, he wanted to live in such places, and the sight of elegant samurai made him reflect on his own appearance; looking at beautiful women, he was overwhelmed by their perfume. Not that his priorities had changed. First came his mother's happiness. His own wants could be taken care of later. For the time being he took pleasure in wandering from place to place, ignoring his hunger, and learning new things—about the workings of the world, human passions, the customs of different areas. He tried to understand current events, compared the military strength of the different provinces, and studied the ways of farmers and townsfolk.

From the beginning of the civil wars to the end of the last century, many men had trained in the martial arts. It meant a life of hardship, and for a year and a half Hiyoshi had followed the Way of the Warrior. But he had not gone about with a long sword at his side, aiming to perfect his martial skills. In fact, with his little bit of money he had bought needles from a wholesaler and had become an itinerant peddler. He had walked as far as Kai and Hokuetsu, his sales pitch always on the tip of his tongue. "Need any needles? Here we have sewing needles from Kyoto. Won't you buy them? Needles for cotton, nee­dles for silk. Sewing needles from Kyoto." His earnings were meager, barely enough to live on. He did not, however, become small-minded, as merchants are prone to do, seeing the world only in terms of their wares.

The Hojo clan of Odawara, the Takeda of Kai, the Imagawa of Suruga. Visiting the castle towns of the north, he sensed that the world was stirring, going through a great change. He came to the conclusion that the coming events would be different from the small battles that had, until now, been symptomatic of internal discord. There would be a great war and it would heal all the country's ills. And if it does, he thought as he walked around selling his wares, then even I… .The world is getting tired of the decrepit Ashikaga regime. There's chaos all around and the world is waiting for those of us who are young.

Having traveled from the northern provinces to Kyoto and Omi, he had learned a little about life. He had crossed into Owari and arrived at Okazaki, hearing that a relative of his father lived in this castle town. He was not about to go to relatives or acquaintances to ask for food and clothing, but early that summer he had become weak and was suffering from a bad case of food poisoning. He also wanted to hear news of home.

He had walked for two days under the bright, scorching sun, but had been unable to find the man he was looking for. After eating a raw cucumber and drinking water from a well, he had felt a sharp pain in his gut. In the evening he had followed the bank of the Yahagi River until he found a boat. His stomach felt sore and rumbled. Perhaps because he had a slight fever, his mouth was dry and felt as though it was full of thorns. Even now, he thought of his mother, and she came to him in his dreams. Later he fell into a deeper sleep, and nothing—neither his mother nor the pain in his stomach nor heaven and earth—existed any longer. Until, that is, the soldier began rapping on his chest the spear.

Hiyoshi's waking shout was disproportionate to the size of his body. He instinctively grabbed hold of the spear. In those days the chest was believed to be the location of the soul, like a shrine within the body.

"Hey, runt, get up!"

The soldier tried to pull back his spear. Hiyoshi held on to it and sat up.

"Get up? I am up."

The man, feeling the strength of Hiyoshi's grip on the spear, scowled and said, “Get out of the boat!"

"Get out?"

"Yes, now! We need the boat, so clear out. Get lost!"

Hiyoshi angrily sat down again. "What if I don't want to?"

"What?"

"What if I don't want to?"

"What do you mean?"

"I don't want to get out of the boat."

"You little bastard!"

"Who's the bastard? Waking a man from a deep sleep by tapping him with a spear, then telling him to get out and get lost?"

"Shit! You'd better watch how you talk. Who do you think I am?"

"A man."

"That's obvious."

"You're the one who asked."

"Your mouth works pretty well, doesn't it, for a little runt? In a second it may wrinkle up and shrink. We are men of the Hachisuka clan. Our leader is Hachisuka Koroku. We got here in the middle of the night, and we need a boat to cross the river."

"You can see the boat but not the man. Anyway, I'm using it!"

"I saw you and woke you up. Now get out of there and get lost."

"Annoying, aren't you?"

"Say that again?"

"As many times as you like. I don't want to get out. I'm not giving up this boat."

The man yanked on the shaft of the spear in an effort to pull Hiyoshi onto the bank. Choosing his moment, Hiyoshi let go. The spear sheared through the leaves of the wil­lows, and the soldier tumbled over backwards. Reversing the spear, he thrust it point-first at Hiyoshi. Rotting planks, a bilge bucket, and the reed mat came flying out of the boat.

"Fool!" Hiyoshi mocked.

Other soldiers came running up.

"Stop! What's going on here?" one said.

"Who's this?" asked another.

They crowded together, making a lot of noise, and before long Koroku and the rest of his men were there.

"Did you find a boat?" Koroku asked.

"There's a boat here, but—"

Koroku quietly came to the front of the group. Hiyoshi, thinking that this must be the leader, sat up a little straighter, and looked Koroku straight in the face. Koroku's eyes were riveted on Hiyoshi. Neither spoke. Koroku did not notice Hiyoshi's strange appear­ance. He was too surprised by the way Hiyoshi looked straight into his eyes. He's bolder than he looks, Koroku thought. The longer they stared at each other, the more Hiyoshi's eyes were like those of a nocturnal animal, shining out of the darkness. Finally, Koroku looked away.

"A child," he said calmly.

Hiyoshi did not respond. His eyes, like an archer's arrows, were still aimed straight at Koroku's face.

"He's a child," Koroku repeated.

"You talking about me?" Hiyoshi asked sullenly.

"Of course. Is there anyone else besides you down there?"

Hiyoshi squared his shoulders a little. "I'm not a child. I've had my coming-of-age ceremony."

"Is that so?" Koroku's shoulders shook with laughter. "If you're an adult, I'll treat you like one."

"Now that you've got me—one man—surrounded by a large group, what are you going to do with me? I suppose you're ronin"

"You're very funny."

"Not funny at all. I was soundly asleep. Besides, I've got a stomachache. Anyway, I don't care who you are. I don't want to move."

"Hm, your stomach hurts?"

"Yes."

"What's seems to be the matter?"

"Food poisoning, maybe, or heatstroke."

"Where are you from?"

"Nakamura in Owari."

"Nakamura? Well, well. What's your family name?"

"I won't tell you my family name, but my given name is Hiyoshi. But wait a minute, what is this, waking a person from his sleep and asking about his parentage? Where you from and what is your lineage?"

"Like you, I'm from Owari, the village of Hachisuka in Kaito district. My name Hachisuka Koroku. I didn't know there were people like you so close to our village. What sort of work do you do?"

Instead of answering, Hiyoshi said, "Ah, you're from Kaito district? That's not far from my village." He suddenly became more friendly. Here was his chance to ask for news about Nakamura. "Well, seeing we're from the same district, I'll change my mind,. You can have the boat."

He took the bundle of merchandise he'd been using as a pillow, slung it over his shoulder, and climbed up onto the bank. Koroku silently watched his every movement. He noticed first the air of a street vendor and the offhand retorts of an adolescent had traveled here and there all by himself. Hiyoshi resigned himself, sighed, and started to leave with a heavy heart.

"Wait, Hiyoshi. Where are you going from here?"

"My boat's been taken, so I have no place to sleep. If I sleep in the grass, I'll get damp from the dew, and my stomach will hurt more. There's nothing else I can do. I'll walk around until dawn."

"If you like, come with me."

"Where to?"

"Hachisuka. Stay at my place. We'll feed you and look after you until you're cured.”

"Thank you." Hiyoshi made a meek little bow. Looking at his own feet, he seemed to be thinking of what to do next. "Does that mean you'll let me live there and work for you?" he asked.

"I like your manner. You've got promise. If you want to serve me, I'll employ you.”

"I don't." He said this very clearly, his head held high. "Because my aim is to serve a samurai, I've gone around comparing the samurai and provincial lords of various provinces. I've decided that the most important thing in serving a samurai is choosing the right one. One does not choose one's master lightly."

"Ha, ha! This is getting more and more interesting. Am I, Koroku, not good enough to be your master?"

"I wouldn't know about that until you hired me, but the Hachisuka clan is not well spoken of in my village. And the master of the house I served in before was robbed man said to be a member of the Hachisuka clan. It would pain my mother if I worked for a thief, so I can't go to the house of such a person and serve him."

"Well, I guess you worked for the pottery merchant Sutejiro."

"How did you know?"

"Watanabe Tenzo was a member of the Hachisuka clan. But I myself have disowned the scoundrel. He escaped, but we have defeated his band and are now on our way back home. Has the name of the Hachisuka been slandered even as far as your ears?"

"Hm. You don't seem to be like him," Hiyoshi said this very frankly, looking right at Koroku. Then, as though he had suddenly remembered something, he said, "Well, sir, without any sort of obligation, will you take me as far as Hachisuka? I'd like to go to my relative's house in Futatsudera."

"Futatsudera is right next to Hachisuka. Who do you know there?"

"The cooper Shinzaemon is related to my mother's side of the family."

"Shinzaemon is of samurai stock. Well then, your mother too must be a descendant of samurai."

"I may be a peddler now, but my father was a samurai."

The men had boarded the boat and fixed the pole in place, and were waiting for Koroku to get on board. Koroku put his arm around Hiyoshi's shoulders and they got on the boat.

"Hiyoshi, if you want to go to Futatsudera, go to Futatsudera. If you want to stay in Hachisuka, that'll be all right too."

Being small, Hiyoshi was hidden among the men and their spears, which stood like a forest of trees. The boat cut across the wide river, but the current was swift, and the cross­ing took time. Hiyoshi got bored. Suddenly he saw a firefly on the back of one of Koroku's soldiers. Cupping his hands, he caught it and watched its light flash on and off.

The Mountain of the Golden Flower

Even when he had returned to Hachisuka, Koroku was not about to let Tenzo get away unpunished. He had sent assassins after him and had written to clans in distant provinces to ask his whereabouts. Autumn came, and he still had nothing to show for his efforts. Rumor had it that Tenzo had found refuge with the Takeda clan of Kai. He had presented them with the stolen gun and had entered their service as one of the army of spies and agitators working for the province.

"If he's reached Kai…" Koroku muttered bitterly, but for the time being he could nothing but resign himself to waiting.

Soon after, he was visited by a messenger from the retainer of the Oda clan who had invited him to the tea ceremony. The man brought with him the akae water pitcher.

"We know that this has been the cause of considerable trouble in your family, though we bought this famous piece in good faith, we feel that we can no longer keep it. We believe that if you return it to the pottery shop, you will restore the honor of your name."

Koroku took the pitcher, promising he would pay a return visit. In the end he did not go in person, but sent a messenger with gifts: a splendid saddle and gold worth twice much as the pitcher. That same day he summoned Matsubara Takumi and told him to get ready to go on a short trip. Then he went out onto the veranda.

"Monkey!" he called.

Hiyoshi came skipping out from the trees and knelt before Koroku. He had first gone to Futatsudera, but he had come back directly to Hachisuka and settled into his new life. He was quick-witted and would do anything. People made jokes at his expense, but he refrained from doing the same. He was talkative but never insincere. Koroku put him to work in the garden and became quite fond of him. Although Hiyoshi was a servant, he did more than just sweep the grounds. His work kept him close to Koroku, so he was under his master's eye day and night. After sunset he became a guard. Naturally, this kind of assignment was only given to the most trusted men.

"You're to go with Takumi and show him the way to the pottery shop in Shinkawa."

"To Shinkawa?"

"What are you making such a long face for?"

"But—"

"I can see you don't want to go, but Takumi is to return the water pitcher to its right­ful owner. I thought it would be a good idea if you went along too."

Hiyoshi prostrated himself and touched his forehead to the ground.

Since he had come along as an attendant, when they arrived at Sutejiro's Hiyoshi waited outside. Not knowing what to make of this, his former co-workers came up and stared. He himself seemed to have completely forgotten that some of them had laughed at him and beaten him before he had been sent home. Smiling at everyone, he squatted in the sunshine, waiting for Takumi. Presently, Takumi came out of the house.

The unexpected return of the stolen pitcher made Sutejiro and his wife so happy they were not sure they weren't dreaming. They hastened to arrange their visitor's sandals so he could slip them on easily, then hurried on ahead of him to the gate, where they bowed repeatedly. Ofuku, too, was there, and he was startled to see Hiyoshi.

"We'll try to find the time to come to Hachisuka and pay our respects in person," said Sutejiro. "Please give His Lordship our very best regards. Thank you again for taking the trouble to come all this way." Husband, wife, Ofuku, and all the employees bowed low. Hiyoshi followed Takumi out and waved to them as he left.

As they walked past the Komyo hills, he wondered sadly, How's my aunt in Yabuyama? And my poor sick uncle? He may be dead already. They were close to Nakamura, and naturally he thought of his mother and sister. He would have liked nothing better than to run over for a moment and see them, but the vow he had made on that frosty night stopped him. He still had done nothing to make his mother happy. As he turned reluctantly away from Nakamura, he met a man in the uniform of a foot soldier.

"Say, aren't you Yaemon's son?"

"And who are you, may I ask?"

"You're Hiyoshi, aren't you?"

"Yes."

"My, you've gotten big! My name is Otowaka. I was a friend of your father. We served in the same regiment under Lord Oda Nobuhide."

"I remember you now! Have I really gotten that big?"

"Ah, I wish your poor dead father could see you now."

Tears came to Hiyoshi's eyes. "Have you seen my mother lately?" he asked.

"I haven't been to the house, but I go to Nakamura from time to time and hear news. She seems to be working as hard as usual."

"She's not sick, is she?"

"Why don't you go see for yourself?"

"I can't go home until I become a great man."

"Just go and show your face. She's your mother, after all."

Hiyoshi wanted to cry. He looked away. When he felt all right again, Otowaka was already walking away in the opposite direction. Takumi had moved on, and was some disance ahead.

* * *

The lingering summer heat had finally faded; the mornings and evenings felt like autumn, and the leaves of the taro plants were lush and full-grown.

"This moat hasn't been dredged for five years at least," Hiyoshi muttered. "We're forever practicing horsemanship and learning spear techniques, and we let mud pile up atour very feet! That's no good." Having returned from the bamboo cutter's house, he was inspecting the mansion's old moat. "What's a moat for, anyway? I'll have to bring this the master's attention."

Hiyoshi tested the depth of the water with a bamboo pole. The surface of the water was covered by water plants, so no one took much notice; but because fallen leaves and mud had accumulated over the years, the moat was not really very deep anymore. After testing the depth in two or three places, he threw away the pole. He was about to cross the bridge to the side gate when someone called out, "Master Half-pint." This was not a reference to his height, but the customary way to address a servant of a provincial clan

"Who are you?" Hiyoshi asked of a hungry-looking man sitting under an oak tree, hugging his knees. He wore a dirty gray kimono with a bamboo flute stuck in the sash.

"Come here a moment." The man waved him over. He was a komuso, one of the mendicant flute-playing monks who came to the village now and then. Like the rest, this one was dirty and unshaven, and carried a bamboo flute in a reed mat slung over his shoulder. Some of them went from village to village like Zen monks, attracting people’s attention by ringing a hand bell.

"Alms for a monk? Or are you too busy thinking of your next meal?"

"No." Hiyoshi was about to make fun of him, but knowing how tough the life of a traveler could be, he offered instead to bring him food if he was hungry and medicine he was sick.

Shaking his head, the man looked up at Hiyoshi and laughed. "Well, won't you sit down?"

"I prefer to stand, thanks. What's on your mind?"

"Are you in service here?"

"Not really." Hiyoshi shook his head. "I get my meals but I'm not a member of the household."

"Hm… Do you work in the back, or in the main house?"

"I sweep the garden."

"A guard of the inner garden, eh? You must be one of Master Koroku's favorites?"

"I wouldn't know."

"Is he at home now?"

"He's out."

"That's a shame," the monk mumbled. He looked disappointed. "Will he be back today?"

Hiyoshi thought there was something suspicious about the man and he hesitated, thinking it best to choose his answers carefully.

"Is he coming back?" the man asked again.

Hiyoshi said, "I'll bet you're a samurai. If you're nothing but a monk, you must be a real novice."

Startled, the man stared intently at Hiyoshi. At length he asked, "Why do you think I'm either a samurai or a novice?"

Hiyoshi answered casually, "It's obvious. Although your skin is tanned, the underside of your fingers are white, and your ears are fairly clean. As for proof that you're a samurai, you're sitting cross-legged on the mat, warrior-style, as if you were still wearing armor. A beggar or monk would bend his back and slump forward. Simple, isn't it?"

"Hm… you're right." The man got up off the mat without taking his eyes off Hiyoshi for even a second. "You have very keen eyes. I've gone through many border posts and checkpoints in enemy territory, and no one's caught on to me yet."

"There are as many fools as wise men in the world, wouldn't you say? Anyway, what do you want with my master?"

The man lowered his voice. "The truth is, I've come from Mino."

"Mino?"

"If you were to mention Namba Naiki, a retainer to Saito Dosan, Master Koroku would understand. I wanted to see him and leave quickly without anyone knowing, but if he's not here, there's nothing to be done. I'd better keep to the village during the day and come back this evening. If he returns, tell him what I said privately."

Naiki started to walk away. But Hiyoshi called him back, saying, "It was a lie."

"Huh?"

"That he's away. I said that because I didn't know who you were. He's at the riding grounds."

"Ah, so he is here."

"Yes. I'll take you to him."

"You're pretty sharp, aren't you?"

"In a military household, it's only natural to be cautious. Should I assume that the men in Mino are impressed by this sort of thing?"

"No, you should not!" Naiki said, annoyed.

Following the moat, they crossed the vegetable patch, and taking the path that went behind the wood, they came to the wide riding grounds.

The earth was dry, and dust rose into the sky. The men of Hachisuka were training hard. They were not just practicing riding. In one maneuver, they drew up stirrup-to-stir­rup and exchanged blows with staves just as if they were fighting in a real battle.

"Wait here," Hiyoshi instructed Naiki.

Having observed the training session, Koroku wiped the sweat from his brow and went to the rest hut for a drink.

"Some hot water, sir?" Hiyoshi ladled out some hot water and diluted it a bit to cool it. He took the cup and, kneeling, placed it before Koroku's camp stool. Hiyoshi drew nearer and whispered, "A messenger has come from Mino in secret. Shall I bring him here? Or will you go to him?"

"From Mino?" Koroku immediately got up. "Monkey, lead the way. Just where did you leave him?"

"On the other side of the forest."

There was no official treaty between the Saito of Mino and the Hachisuka, but for many years they had been bound by a secret alliance to help one another in emergencies. In return, the Hachisuka received a handsome annual stipend from Mino.

Koroku was surrounded by powerful neighbors—the Oda of Owari, the Tokugawa of Mikawa, and the Imagawa of Suruga—but he had never sworn allegiance to any of them. He owed his independence to the watchful eyes of the lord of Inabayama Castle, Saito Dosan. Their territories being separated by some distance, the reason the Hachisuka and the Saito had entered into such an alliance was not clear.

One story was that Masatoshi, Koroku's predecessor, had rescued a man close death in front of the Hachisuka mansion. He seemed to be a wandering swordsman following the rigorous discipline of the martial arts. Feeling sorry for him, Masatoshi h taken him in and given him the best medical care. After the man had recovered, Masatoshi had even given him some traveling money.

"I won't forget this," the man swore. On the day of his departure he pledged, "When I've made my fortune, I will send you word and repay you for your kindness." The name that he left with them was Matsunami Sokuro.

Several years later a letter had arrived, bearing the signature Lord Saito Dosan.  To their surprise, it was from the man whom they had known as Sokuro. The alliance was an old one, passed on from one generation to the next. So, as soon as Koroku knew that the secret messenger was from Saito Dosan, he hurried out to meet him.

There in the shadows of the forest, the two men exchanged greetings, then, looking  each other in the eye, each man raised his open palm to his chest, as if in prayer.

"I am Hachisuka Koroku."

"I am Namba Naiki of Inabayama."

As a young man, Dosan had studied Buddhism at Myokakuji Temple. This experience had led him to use the secret Buddhist terms and signs he had learned in temples and monasteries as passwords among his men.

Once they had finished these formalities and authenticated their identities, the two men felt more at their ease and talked freely. Koroku ordered Hiyoshi to stand guard and to let absolutely no one pass, and he and Naiki walked deeper into the forest. Whatever the two men talked about, or whatever secret documents Naiki might have brought with him, were, of course, not revealed to Hiyoshi, nor did he want to know. He stood faithfully at the edge of the forest, keeping watch. When he had a task to perform, he did it: if he was to sweep the garden, he swept it; if he was to stand guard, he stood guard. He did a thorough job, whatever it was. Unlike other men, he was able to find pleasure in any job that he was given, but this was not simply because he was born poor. Rather, he saw the work at hand as a preparation for the next task. He was convinced that this was the way he would one day realize his ambitions.

What do I have to do to become somebody in the world? This was a question often asked himself. Some had pedigree and lineage, but not he. Others had money and power, but Hiyoshi did not have these, either. Well, how am I going to make my fortune? The question depressed him because he was so short, and no healthier than the next man. He had no learning to speak of, and his intelligence was only average. What in the world did he have going for him? Faithfulness—that was all he could come up with. He wasn't going to be faithful in some things and not in others, he was determined to be faithful in all things. He would hold on to his faithfulness because he had nothing else to give.

All or nothing! That was how far he had to go. He would pursue any job to the end, just as though the gods themselves had given him a mission. Whether it was sweeping the garden, being a sandal bearer, or cleaning out the stables, he would put everything he had into it. For the sake of his ambitions, he resolved not to be idle now. To try to separate himself from the present was nonsense in terms of the future.

The small birds of the forest chirped and twittered above Hiyoshi's head. But he did not see the fruit in the trees at which the birds were pecking. When Koroku finally emerged from the forest, he was in high spirits. His eyes were fired by ambition. And his face, which would become strained when he heard about problems, was still flushed by some important news.

"Where is the monk?" asked Hiyoshi.

"He took another path out of the forest." Koroku looked hard at Hiyoshi and said, "Keep this to yourself."

"Of course, sir."

"By the way, Namba Naiki praised you to the skies."

"Really?"

"Someday I'm going to promote you. I hope you decide to stay with us forever!"

Night fell, and the principal members of the clan met in Koroku's residence. The se­cret council lasted into the small hours. That night, too, Hiyoshi stood beneath the stars in the role of faithful guard.

The strictest secrecy was maintained about the contents of the message from Saito Dosan, the substance being revealed only to the key men. But in the days following the nighttime council, several of Koroku's retainers began to disappear from Hachisuka. They were a select group, the ablest and shrewdest, and they left the village in disguise—bound for Inabayama, it was whispered.

Koroku's younger brother, Shichinai, was one of those chosen to go undercover in Inabayama. Hiyoshi was ordered to accompany him.

"Are we going on a scouting mission? Is there going to be a battle?" he asked.

"Never mind," was the curt reply. "Just keep quiet and come along with me." Shichi­nai would say nothing more. Lower-ranking members of the household, even the kitchen workers, called him "Master Pockmark," but only behind his back. He made them feel ill at ease, and they detested him. He drank heavily, was arrogant, and had none of the warmheartedness of his elder brother. Hiyoshi quite frankly felt the man was disgusting, but he did not complain about the assignment. He had been chosen because Koroku trusted him. Hiyoshi had not yet asked to become a member of the clan, but he had agreed to follow orders faithfully. He was ready and willing to serve Shichinai—even this Master Pockmark—to the end, if need be.

On the day of their departure, Shichinai changed his appearance right down to the way he tied his hair. He would be traveling incognito, disguised as an oil merchant from Kiyosu. Hiyoshi changed back into the itinerant needle peddler of the previous summer The two of them were going to be chance traveling companions on the road to Mino.

"Monkey, when we come to the checkpoints, we'd better go through separately."

"All right."

"You're a blabbermouth, so try to keep your mouth shut, whatever they ask you.'

"Yes, sir."

"If you give yourself away, I'll pretend I don't know you and leave you there."

There were many checkpoints along the road. Despite the close ties of kinship that should have made the Oda and the Saito allies, in reality they were exactly the opposite. As a result, both sides were particularly vigilant at their common border. But even when they had crossed into Mino proper, the atmosphere of suspicion did not dissipate, and Hiyoshi asked Shichinai why.

"You're always asking the obvious! Lord Saito Dosan and his son Yoshitatsu have been at odds for years." Shichinai did not seem to be surprised by the enmity between two factions within a single family. Hiyoshi was tempted to question Shichinai's intelligence. It was not as though examples were lacking, even in ancient times, of fathers and sons in the warrior class taking up arms against one another, but there had to be good reasons.

"Why is there a bad relationship between Lord Dosan and Lord Yoshitatsu?" Hiyoshi asked again.

"Don't be a nuisance! If you want to know, ask somebody else." Shichinai clucked his tongue and refused to say anything more. Before arriving in Mino, Hiyoshi had worried that he would be forced to do something against his better judgment.

Inabayama was a picturesque castle town nestling among small mountains. The autumn tints of Mount Inabayama were misty under a fine rain, but there was a hint of sunlight shining through. Autumn was deepening, and one could look at the mountain from morning till night and never tire of it. It looked as if the cliff had been covered with a golden brocade, a phenomenon that had given Inabayama its second name: the Mountain of the Golden Flower. It soared up from the Nagara River, a splendid backdrop the town and fields, and Hiyoshi's eyes grew wide when he saw on its peak the white walls of the castle, small in the distance, crouching like a solitary white bird.

The only way up from the town below was by a tortuous path, and the castle had a plentiful supply of water. Hiyoshi was impressed. It was the kind of stronghold that was difficult to attack and unlikely to fall. Then he reminded himself that a province was not held by castles alone.

Shichinai took a room in a merchants' inn on a street in the prosperous part of town. He gave Hiyoshi only a little money and told him to stay at one of the cheap lodging houses in the back streets.

"After a while I'll give you your orders," he said. "People are going to be suspicious if you're idle, so until I'm ready for you, go out every day with your needles."

Hiyoshi gave a respectful bow, took the money, and did as he was told. The lodging house was not very clean, but he was more at ease being on his own. He still could not imagine what he was going to be ordered to do. There were many different kinds of travelers staying at the lodging house: actors, mirror polishers, and loggers. He was familiar with their unique smell and with the fleas and lice they boarded with.

Hiyoshi went out every day to sell needles, and on his return he brought back salted vegetables and rice, for everyone did his own cooking. The stoves were available to those who paid for the firewood. Seven days passed. Still no word from Shichinai. And wasn't Shichinai himself idle every day? Hiyoshi felt as though he had been abandoned.

Then one day, while Hiyoshi was walking down a side street in a residential area, plying his trade, a man with a leather quiver at his side and a couple of old bows on his shoulder came walking toward him, calling out in a voice far louder than Hiyoshi's, "Old bows repaired! Old bows repaired!"

When he got up close, the bow mender stopped, his eyes widening with surprise. "Why, it's Monkey, isn't it? When did you get here, and who are you with?"

Hiyoshi was no less surprised. The bow mender was Nitta Hikoju, another of Koroku's men.

"Master Hikoju, what are you doing mending bows in Inabayama?"

"Hm, I'm not the only one. There are at least thirty or forty of us. But I didn't expect to find you here."

"I came seven days ago with Master Shichinai, but all he told me to do was go out and sell my needles, so that's what I've been doing. What's it all about, anyway?"

"Don't you know yet?"

"He wouldn't tell me a thing. And there's nothing worse for a man than to have to do something without knowing why."

"Yes, I can imagine."

"Surely you know what's going on."

"If I didn't, would I be walking around mending bows?"

"Please, can't you tell me anything?"

"Hm, Shichinai's unkind. You go around without knowing why your life is at risk. But we can't stand and talk in the middle of the street."

"Our lives are in danger?"

"If you were caught, there'd be a risk of the plan being exposed, but for all our sakes, maybe I should explain so you'll have some idea of what it's all about."

"I'd appreciate that very much."

"But we're too conspicuous standing out here."

"How about behind that shrine?"

"Yeah, and I'm hungry. Why don't we have lunch?"

Hikoju walked ahead, and Hiyoshi followed. The shrine was surrounded by woods, and very quiet. They opened their lunches wrapped in bamboo leaves, and started to eat. The ginkgo leaves above them danced in the sunlight. As they looked through the bright yellow foliage, they saw Mount Inabayama clad in the flaming red leaves of departing au­tumn. The castle on the peak soared into the blue sky above: the pride of the Saito clan and the symbol of its power.

"That is our objective." Hikoju pointed at Inabayama Castle with his chopsticks, their tips sticky with rice. They were both looking at the same castle, but each saw it quite differently. Hiyoshi's mouth fell open as he stared blankly at the tips of the chopsticks.

"Are the Hachisuka going to storm the castle?"

"Don't be stupid!" Hikoju snapped his chopsticks in two and threw them on the ground. "Lord Dosan's son, Yoshitatsu, holds the castle, and from there he controls the neighborhood and the roads to Kyoto and the east. Within its walls he drills his troops and stores new weapons. The Oda, Imagawa, and Hojo are no match for him. So what could the Hachisuka do? Don't ask such stupid questions. I was going to let you in on plans, but now I don't know whether I should."

"I'm sorry. I won't say anything else." Scolded, Hiyoshi fell meekly silent.

"There isn't anybody around here, is there?" The bow mender looked around and then licked his lips. "I suppose you've heard about the alliance between our clan and Lord Dosan." Hiyoshi limited his reply to a nod. "Father and son have been at odds for years.” Hikoju told Hiyoshi about the feud and the resulting chaos in Mino.

Dosan had once traveled under other names, one of which was Matsunami Sokuro. He was an experienced man: he had been an oil merchant, a wandering swordsman, and even a novice in a temple. Eventually he had risen from the lowly position of oil merchant and seized the province of Mino with his bare hands. To do this, he had killed his 1ord, Toki Masayori, and driven his heir, Yorinari, into exile. He had later taken one of Toki’s concubines. There were countless stories about his brutality and the atrocities he had committed. If more proof were needed of his astuteness, once he had become master of Mino, he had not ceded a single inch of land to his enemies.

But the workings of fate are terrifying. Could it be that what happened next was divine retribution? He adopted Yoshitatsu, the son of his former lord's concubine. But he worried about whether the child was his own or Lord Toki's. As Yoshitatsu grew up, Dosan's doubts became stronger with each passing day.

Yoshitatsu was an imposing man, who stood over six feet tall. When he was made lord of Inabayama, his father moved into Sagiyama Castle, on the other side of the Nagara River. On opposite banks of the river, the destinies of father and son were in the of the gods. Yoshitatsu was in his prime and he ignored the man he assumed to be his fathr. The aging Dosan, ever more suspicious, cursed Yoshitatsu and finally disinherited him, with the idea of putting his second son, Magoshiro, in Yoshitatsu's place. Yoshitatsu, however, was quick to catch on to the plan.

But then Yoshitatsu contracted leprosy and became known as "the Leper Lord." He was a child of fate and eccentric, but also resourceful and brave. Yoshitatsu set up forts to guard against attack from Sagiyama, and never turned down an opportunity to fight. Determined to rid himself of this despicable "Leper Lord"—his own son—Dosan resigned himself to spill blood. Hikoju took a deep breath. "Dosan's retainers are, of course,  known hereabouts. We were asked to set fire to the castle town."

"Fire the town!"

"It wouldn't do any good just to suddenly set fires. Before doing that, we're to spread rumors, and when Yoshitatsu and his retainers at Inabayama are unsettled, we pick a windy night and turn the castle town into a sea of flame. Then Dosan's forces will cross the river and attack."

"I see." Hiyoshi nodded with a grown-up look. He showed neither admiration nor disapproval. "So we've been sent here to spread rumors and commit arson."

"Correct."

"So in the end, we're just agitators, aren't we? We're here to stir up the people."

“Well, yes, you could put it that way."

“Isn't being an agitator the work of the lowest outcasts?"

"There's nothing we can do about it. We Hachisuka have been dependent on Lord Dosan for many years now." Hikoju saw things very simply. Hiyoshi looked at him. A ronin was always a ronin, but he had trouble getting used to the idea. Although he got his rice from the table of a ronin, he considered his own life to be precious, and he did not intend to throw it away heedlessly.

“Why did Master Shichinai come?"

“He's here to direct operations. With thirty or forty men entering the area separately, you need someone to coordinate and supervise them."

“I see.

“So         now you know what it's all about."

“Uh-huh. But there's one more thing I don't understand. What about me?"

“Hm. You?"

“What do you suppose I'll have to do? I've had no orders from Master Shichinai so far.

“Perhaps because you're small and agile, you'll be given the job of setting the fires on the night when there's a wind."

“I see. An arsonist."

“Since we've come to this town on secret orders, we can't afford to be careless. When we pose as bow menders and needle sellers we have to be careful and watch what we say."

“If they learn about our plan, will they start looking for us right away?"

“Of course. If Yoshitatsu's samurai get even a hint of our plans, there'll be a massacre.  If we’re  caught, it'll be horrible, whether it's just you or all of us." At first, Hikoju had thought  it too bad that Hiyoshi knew nothing; now he seemed suddenly uneasy about the possibility that the secret might leak from Monkey's mouth. Hiyoshi read this in his face.  “Don’t worry. I've gotten used to this sort of thing in my travels."

“You won't let anything slip?" Hikoju asked tensely. "This is enemy territory, you know."

“Well, we should avoid looking suspicious." His back had gotten stiff, and he slapped it two or three times as he stood up. "Monkey, where are you staying?"

“In the alley just behind the inn where Master Shichinai has a room."

“Is that so? Well, I'll drop by there one of these nights. Be especially careful around the other lodgers." Shouldering his bows, Nitta Hikoju headed off in the direction of the town.

Sitting in the shrine grounds, Hiyoshi gazed at the faraway white walls of the castle above the ginkgo trees. Now that he knew more about the conflict within the Saito family and the evil it had bred, neither the ironlike walls nor the commanding position of the escarpment seemed to have any power at all in his eyes. Who will be the next lord of the castle? he wondered. Dosan won't come to a happy end, either, that's for sure. What kind of strength can there be in a land where master and retainers are enemies? How can the people have confidence when the lords of the province, father and son, distrust and plot against each other?

Mino was a fertile area backed by mountains, at a major crossroads between the capital and the provinces. It was blessed with natural resources, agriculture and industry thrived, the water was clean, and the women beautiful. But it was rotten! He did not have time to think about the worm that was wriggling at its rotten core. His mind jumped to the question of who would be the next lord of Mino.

What troubled Hiyoshi most was the part being played by Hachisuka Koroku, the man from whom he received his meals. Ronin did not have a good reputation, but from serving Koroku, he knew he was an upright man; he had lineage, albeit distant, and one could say his character was superior. Hiyoshi had felt there was nothing to be ashamed of in bowing to this man daily and obeying his orders, but now he had second thoughts.

Dosan had long aided the Hachisuka financially, and their friendship was a strong one. It was unthinkable that Koroku would not know of Dosan's character, or that he could be unaware of his treachery and atrocities. Nevertheless, he was an agitator in the struggle between father and son. No matter how many times he went over the matter in his mind, Hiyoshi could not agree to take part in this. There were thousands of blind men in this world. Could Koroku be one of the blindest? As his feelings of disgust grew stronger, all he wanted to do was run away.

Toward the end of the tenth month, Hiyoshi left the lodging house to go out and peddle his wares. On a corner of one of the back streets, he ran into Hikoju, whose nose was bright red from the dry wind. The bow mender drew up to him and pressed a letter into his hand. "After you read this, chew it up and spit it into the river," he warned. Then, pretending not to know him, Hikoju turned right, while Hiyoshi walked off in the opposite direction. Hiyoshi knew it was a letter from Shichinai. His anxiety hadn't left him, and his heart began to pound.

I've got to get away from these people, he realized. He had been over the problem any number of times, but running away was, in the long run, more dangerous than staying put. He was alone in the boardinghouse, but he took it for granted that his comings and goings and all his actions were continually watched. Probably the spies themselves were being observed. They were all tied to one another like links in a chain. It looks like they're really going ahead with it, he concluded, his mood darkening. Perhaps his reluctance came from timidity, but he could not convince himself he should become a brutal agitator who would confuse people, stir up trouble, and turn the town into an inferno.

He had lost all respect for Koroku. He did not want to serve Dosan, nor did he want anything to do with Yoshitatsu. If he was going to be anyone's ally, he would be the townspeople's. His sympathies lay very much with them, and especially with the parents and their children. They were always the main victims of war. He was too anxious to read the letter immediately.

As he walked along, giving his usual cry, "Needles! Needles from the capital!" he purposely wound his way toward a side street in a residential area where he would not be seen. There he stopped by a small river.

"Oh, damn, I can't get through here!" he said in a deliberately loud voice. He looked around. Luck was with him. No one was in sight. But just to be sure, he faced the small river and while relieving himself, looked around, checking out the area. Then he quietly took out the letter from the folds of his clothing and read:

Tonight, at the Hour of the Dog, if the wind is from the south or west, come to the woods behind the Jozaiji Temple. If the wind is from the north or stops altogether, stay away.

He finished reading, tore the letter into small pieces, and rolled them into a small ball, which he then chewed into a wad.

Needle seller!"

Startled, he had no time to spit the thing into the river. He palmed the paper wad in his clenched fist.

“Who is it?"

“Over here. We'd like to buy some needles."

There was nobody in sight, and Hiyoshi couldn't tell where the voice came from.

“Needle seller, over here!"

On the other side of the road was an embankment and, atop it, double mud walls. A small wicker gate in the wall opened and a young servant stuck his head out. Hiyoshi answered hesitantly. Any samurai residence in this neighborhood must be that of a retainer of the Saito clan. But of which side? There would be nothing to worry about if this one belonged to a retainer of Dosan, but if it belonged to Yoshitatsu's faction, things could nasty.

“There's a person here who'd like some needles."

Hiyoshi's uneasiness intensified, but he had no choice. "Thank you," he said distractedly.  Following the servant, he went in through the wicker gate and walked around an ar­tificial hill in what seemed to be a rear garden. The mansion probably belonged to an important retainer. The main house was separated from a number of annexes. Slowing down, Hiyoshi took in the grandeur of the buildings and the neatness of the rocks and and streams. Who could want to buy needles from him in a place like this? The servant’s words suggested that it was a member of the owner's family, but that did not make sense. In a mansion this imposing, the lady of the house or her daughter wouldn't be buying needles for herself. And, in any case, there would be no reason at all to call in a peddler who hawked his wares in the street.

“Wait here a moment," the servant said, leaving him in a corner of the garden. A two-story building with rough plaster walls, well removed from the main house, caught Hiyoshi’s attention. The first floor seemed to be a study, the top floor a library. The young servant called up, "Master Mitsuhide, I brought the man in."

Mitsuhide appeared at a square window much like an opening in a battlement. He was a young man of twenty-four or twenty-five, with a fair complexion and intelligent eyes. Holding some books in his hand, he stuck his head out of the window. "I'll come down. Take him to the veranda," he said, and disappeared inside.

Hiyoshi looked up and noticed for the first time that someone could have seen him over the wall while he was standing at the river reading the letter. He was sure he must been observed, and that this Mitsuhide had become suspicious and was about to question him. Hiyoshi thought that if he did not make up some story, he would be in trouble. Just as he was preparing an explanation, the young servant waved him over and said, “The master's nephew is coming, so wait by the veranda. And mind your manners."

Hiyoshi knelt down a little way from the veranda, his eyes downcast. After a while, when nobody came out, he looked up. The number of books inside the house amazed him. They were everywhere, on and around the desk and the bookshelves, and in the other rooms on the first and second floors. Whether it's the master or his nephew, he thought, someone seems to be quite a scholar. Books were a rare sight for Hiyoshi. Look­ing around, he noticed a couple of other things: between the horizontal timbers of the house frame hung a fine spear, and a musket was propped against the wall in an alcove.

Finally the man entered the room and quietly sat down in front of the desk. Resting his chin on his hands, he looked fixedly at Hiyoshi, as though he were concentrating on some Chinese characters in a book. "Hello, there."

Hiyoshi said, "I'm a needle seller. Are you interested in buying some needles, sir?"

Mitsuhide nodded. "Yes, I am. But first there's something I'd like to ask you. Are you here to sell needles or to spy?"

"To sell needles, of course."

"Well, then, what brought you into an alleyway in a residential area like this?"

"I thought it was a shortcut."

"You're lying." Mitsuhide turned his body a little to the side. "When I saw you, I could tell you were a seasoned traveler and peddler. So you should have sense enough to know whether or not you could sell needles at a samurai residence."

"I have sold them, though rarely—"

"I can imagine it's rarely."

"But it can be done."

"Well, let's put that aside for the moment. What were you reading in a deserted place like this?"

"Huh?"

"You furtively took out a piece of paper, thinking that no one was around. But anywhere there is life, there are eyes. And things, too, speak to those who have ears to hear. What were you reading?"

"I was reading a letter."

"Some sort of secret correspondence?"

"I was reading a letter from my mother," he said very matter-of-factly. Mitsuhide looked searchingly at him. "Is that so? A letter from your mother?"

"Yes."

"In that case, let me see it. According to the laws of the castle, when you come across a suspicious person, he's to be arrested and taken to the castle. As evidence, let me see the letter from your mother, or I'll have to hand you over to the authorities."

"I ate it."

"You did what?"

"Unfortunately, after I read it, I ate it, sir."

"You ate it?"

"Yes, that's what I did," Hiyoshi continued earnestly. "To me, just by my being alive, my mother is to be more respected than the gods or Buddhas. Therefore—"

Mitsuhide let out a thundering cry, "Hold your tongue! I suppose you chewed it up because it was a secret communication. That alone makes you a suspicious character!"

"No! No! You're mistaken!" Hiyoshi said, waving his hands. "To carry a letter from my mother, to whom I'm more grateful than to the gods and Buddhas, and in the end blow my nose on it and toss it away in the street, where it would be trampled under people’ss feet, would be impious and a crime. This is the way I think, and it's a habit of mine always to eat them. I'm not lying. It's natural for someone to miss his mother so much that he'd want to eat the letters, coming from so far away."

Mitsuhide was sure it was all a lie, but even so, here was a boy who lied much better than the common run. And he sympathized with him because he himself had left his mother behind at home.

Although it's a lie, it's not a base lie. And though it's nonsense to talk about eating a letter from one's mother, there's no mistaking that even this little monkey-faced lad must have parents, thought Mitsuhide, at the same time feeling sorry for his unpolished and uneducated adversary. Nevertheless, if this ignorant, naive youth were the tool of an agitator, he could be as dangerous as a wild animal. He wasn't the kind of person to send off  to the castle, and it would be a shame just to kill him on the spot. He thought about just letting Hiyoshi go, but he kept a sharp eye on him while trying to decide how to handle matter.

"Mataichi!" he called. "Is Mitsuharu around?"

"I think so, sir."

"Tell him I don't want to be a bother, but please ask if he can come here for a minute."

"Yes, sir." Mataichi ran off.

Shortly after, Mitsuharu came from the house, walking with great strides. He was younger than Mitsuhide, perhaps eighteen or nineteen. He was the heir to the master of the house, the lay priest Akechi Mitsuyasu, and he and Mitsuhide were cousins. Mitsuhide's family name was also Akechi. He lived with his uncle and spent his days in study. It not that he was financially dependent on his uncle; he had come to Inabayama because his home in provincial Ena was far removed from the centers of culture and politics. His uncle often said to his son, "Look at Mitsuhide and study a little." Mitsuhide was a serious scholar. Even before he had come to Inabayama, he had already traveled extensively, touring the country from the capital to the western provinces.  He had kept company with traveling swordsmen and sought out knowledge, studied current events, and willingly accepted life's hardships. When he got around to studying firearms, he made a special trip to the free city of Sakai and eventually made so great a contribution to the defenses and military organization of Mino that everyone, beginning with his uncle, respected him as a genius of the new learning.

"How can I be of assistance, Mitsuhide?"

"Well, it's nothing really." His tone was deferential.

"What is it?"

"I want you to do something for me, if you think it's right."

The two men went outside and, standing right next to Hiyoshi, discussed what to do with him. After hearing the details from Mitsuhide, Mitsuharu said, "You mean this nobody? He looked Hiyoshi over casually. "If you think he's suspicious, turn him over to Mataichi. If he's tortured a bit, beaten with a broken bow, say, he'll talk soon enough. It should be easy."

"No." Mitsuhide took another look at Hiyoshi. "I don't think he's the type who'll talk with that sort of treatment. And I feel sorry for him, somehow."

"If he's taken you in and made you feel sorry for him, you're not likely to get him to talk. Give him to me for four or five days. I'll lock him up in the storage shed. He'll soon be spitting out the truth when he gets hungry."

"Sorry to trouble you with this," Mitsuhide said.

"Shall I tie him up?" Mataichi said, twisting Hiyoshi's arm.

"Wait!" said Hiyoshi, trying to free himself from Mataichi's grip. He looked up at Mitsuhide and Mitsuharu. "You just said that even if I was beaten, I wouldn't tell the truth. All you have to do is ask me and I'll tell you everything. Even if you don't ask! I can't stand being shut up in a dark place."

"You're ready to talk?"

"Yes."

"All right. I'll do the questioning," said Mitsuharu.

"Go ahead."

"What about—" But Hiyoshi's composure seemed to unnerve Mitsuharu, and he stopped in mid-sentence, muttering, "It's no good! He's a strange one. I wonder if he's quite right in the head. He must be playing a game with us." Glancing at Mitsuhide, he gave a bitter laugh. But Mitsuhide was not laughing. He was looking at Hiyoshi with an anxious look on his face. Mitsuhide and Mitsuharu took turns questioning him, as though they were humoring a spoiled child.

Hiyoshi said, "Well, then, I'll tell you what's being planned for tonight, but since I'm not part of their gang and don't have anything to do with them, can you guarantee my life?"

"Fair enough. Taking your life wouldn't be much of an accomplishment. Something's up, eh?"

"There's going to be a big fire tonight, if the wind is right."

"Where?"

"I don't know exactly, but the ronin staying at the lodging house discussed it in secret. Tonight, if the wind comes from the south or west, they're going to meet in the woods near the Jozaiji, split up, and set fire to the town."

"What?" Mitsuharu's mouth fell open. Mitsuhide swallowed hard, finding it difficult to believe what he had just heard.

Hiyoshi, ignoring their reaction to what he had just said, swore that he didn't know any more, just what he had heard whispered by ronin who happened to be his fellow lodgers. All he wanted to do was sell his stock of needles and return to his hometown of Nakamura as soon as possible, to see his mother's face.

After the color had returned to their faces, Mitsuhide and Mitsuharu stood aghast for a moment. At last, Mitsuhide gave an order.

"All right, we'll let this one go, but not before nightfall. Mataichi, take him and give him some food."

The wind that had been blowing all day began to freshen. It was coming from the southwest.

"Mitsuhide, what do you suppose they'll do? The wind's blowing from the west."

Mitsuharu's eyes were filled with worry as he looked up at the clouds scudding past. Mitsuhide silently sat down on the veranda of the library. Gazing off into space, he seemed to be concentrating on some complicated problem. "Mitsuharu," he said finally, "has my uncle said anything strange in the past four or five days?"

"Well, nothing that Father's said has struck me as particularly strange."

"Are you sure?"

"Now that you mention it, before he left for Sagiyama Castle this morning, he did say that because relations between Lord Dosan and Lord Yoshitatsu had worsened recently, we might be in for some trouble, though it was difficult to say when. He said that while one should always be prepared, just in case something unexpected happens, the men should prepare their armor and horses."

"He said that this morning?"

"Yes."

"That's it!" Mitsuhide slapped his knee. "He was warning you indirectly that there's going to be a battle tonight. It's common practice for military plots of this kind to be kept secret even from close kin. He must be in on it."

"Will there be a battle tonight?"

"The men meeting tonight at the Jozaiji are probably agents brought in from the out­side by Lord Dosan, most likely from Hachisuka."

"So Lord Dosan's made up his mind to drive Lord Yoshitatsu from the castle."

"That's what I think." Mitsuhide, confident that he had guessed right, nodded vigorously, but then he gloomily bit his lip. "I suspect Lord Dosan's plan is not going to work. Lord Yoshitatsu is well prepared. More than that, for father and son to take up arms and spill blood runs contrary to any code of behavior. The gods will punish them! No matter who wins or loses, the blood of kinsmen will flow freely. And it won't increase the Saito clan's territory by one inch. On the contrary, the neighboring provinces will be watching for an opportunity to intervene, and the province will be on the brink of collapse." He let out a long sigh.

Mitsuharu was sunk in silence, pensively studying the dark swirling clouds in the sky. In a fight between two of one's lords, there was nothing a retainer could do. They knew that Mitsuharu's father, Mitsuyasu, a trusted retainer of Dosan, was in the vanguard of the movement to bring about Yoshitatsu's fall.

"We have to stop this unnatural battle by any means at our disposal. That is our duty as loyal retainers. Mitsuharu, you must go immediately to Sagiyama and find your father. And you two together must dissuade Lord Dosan from carrying out his plans."

"Yes, I understand."

"I'll wait until evening, go to Jozaiji, and somehow thwart their schemes. I'm going to stop them, no matter what!"

In the kitchen, three large stoves stood in a row. Huge cauldrons holding several bagfuls of rice sat on the stoves. When the lids were lifted, the starchy water boiled over in clouds of steam. Hiyoshi had worked out that for this amount of rice to be consumed in one sitting, there had to be over a hundred people in the mansion, including the master's family, and his retainers and their dependents. "With all this rice, why can't my mother and sister have enough to fill their stomachs?" He thought of his mother; he thought of rice. The rice made him think of his mother's hunger.

"It's awfully windy tonight." The old man in charge came over and checked the in the stoves. He said to the kitchen helpers who were cooking the rice, "The wind won’t let up even after sunset. Watch the fires. And as soon as one pot of rice is ready, start making rice balls."

He was on his way out when he noticed Hiyoshi. He looked at him curiously summoned a servant, "Who's that townsman with a face like a monkey?" he asked. “I haven't seen him around before."

"He's in Master Mitsuhide's charge. Mataichi is guarding him so he won't run away

The old man then noticed Mataichi seated on the kindling bin.

"Good work!" he said to Mataichi, without a clue as to what was going on. "Is he under arrest for suspicious behavior?"

"No. I don't know why. Only that the orders came from Master Mitsuhide." Mataichi said as little as he could get away with.

The old man seemed to forget about Hiyoshi and said, "The truth is, Master Mitsuhide has sense and discrimination well beyond his years." The old man admired Mitsuhide and began to sing his praises. "He's much above average, don't you think? Master Mitsuhide's not one of those men who despise learning and brag about how heavy a staff they use, how well they wield a spear on horseback, or how many people they cut down on what battlefield. Whenever I peek into the library, he's lost in study. And he's a great swordsman and strategist too. He'll go far, that's for sure."

Mataichi, proud to hear his master spoken of so highly, chimed in, "It's just as you say. I've been his servant since he was a boy, and there's no kinder master than he. He’s also a good son to his mother, and whether he's studying here or traveling around provinces, he never neglects to write to her."

"It's often the case that by the age of twenty-four or twenty-five, if a man has great courage, he's also a braggart, and if he's gentle, he's a fop," the old man said. "As if he’d been born in a stable, he soon forgets what he owes to his parents and leads a selfish life.

"Well, remember he's not just a gentleman," said Mataichi. "He's got a fierce temper too, despite appearances to the contrary. Although it rarely comes to the surface, when he gets mad, there's no holding him back."

"So even though he appears to be gentle, when he gets angry…"

"Precisely. Like what happened today."

"Today?"

"In an emergency, when he's thinking over what's right or wrong, he thinks things through to the end. But when he's made his decision, it's like a dam breaking, and he immediately gives orders to his cousin, Master Mitsuharu."

"He's a leader, all right—a born general."

"Master Mitsuharu is devoted to Master Mitsuhide, and so he willingly follows his orders. Today he galloped off to Sagiyama castle."

"What do you suppose is going on?"

"I don't know."

'Cook a lot of rice. Make some rice balls for the troops. There might be a battL the middle of the night.' That's what Master Mitsuharu said when he left."

"Preparations for an emergency, huh?"

"I'd be happy if it stops with the preparations, because in a battle between Sagiyama and Inabayama, which side should we fight for? Whichever it is, we'll be shooting our bows at friends and relatives."

"Well, it may not come to that. It seems as though Master Mitsuhide has devised a plan to prevent a battle."

"The gods know I'll pray for his success. If the neighboring clans attack us, I'm ready to fight them right away."

Outside, night had fallen. The sky was pitch black. Gusts of wind came in, and the fire in the mouths of the huge stoves made a slight roaring noise and grew brighter. Hiyoshi, still squatting in front of the stoves, smelled burnt rice.

"Hey! The rice is burning! You're letting the rice burn!"

"Out of the way, you!" the servants said without a word of thanks. After they had dampened the fires in the stoves, one of them climbed a ladder and transferred the rice into a tub. All those who were not busy with something else began making rice balls by th e score. Hiyoshi worked with them, pressing the rice into balls. He helped himself to a couple of moufhfuls, but nobody seemed to mind. Almost in a trance, they went on making rice ball after rice ball, talking as they did so.

"I guess there'll be a battle, eh?"

"Can't they end it without a fight?"

They were making provisions for the troops, but most of them hoped that the stores would not be needed.

At the Hour of the Dog, Mitsuhide called for Mataichi, who went outside but soon came back calling, "Needle seller! Where's the needle seller!"

Hiyoshi jumped up, licking rice grains off of his fingers. He only had to take one step out of the building to gauge the strength of the wind.

"Come along with me. Master Mitsuhide's waiting. And be quick about it."

Hiyoshi followed Mataichi, noticing that he had put on light armor as if he were ready to go off to battle. Hiyoshi had no idea where they were going. At length they went out the central gate and he understood. Going around the rear garden, they came to the front. Outside the gate, a mounted figure was waiting for them.

"Mataichi?" Mitsuhide had on the clothes he had worn that day. He held the reins in his hands and carried a long spear under one arm.

"Yes, sir."

"The needle seller?"

"He's right here."

"The two of you run on ahead."

Turning to Hiyoshi, Mataichi ordered, "Come on, needle seller, let's go."

The two men on foot ran into the pitch black night. Matching their pace, Mitsuhide followed on horseback. They came to a crossroads, and Mitsuhide instructed them to turn right, then left. Finally, Hiyoshi realized that they had reached the gate of the Jozaiji, the meeting place of the Hachisuka men. Mitsuhide dismounted nimbly.

"Mataichi, stay here with the horse," he said, handing him the reins. "Mitsuharu is supposed to come here from Sagiyama Castle in the last half of the Hour of the Dog. If he doesn't make it by the agreed hour, our plan is canceled." Then, with a tragic look on his face, he said, "The town has become the home of warring demons. How can a mere man guess the outcome?" The last of his words were swallowed up by the enveloping gloom.

"Needle seller! You show the way."

"The way to where?" Hiyoshi braced himself against the wind.

"The woods where the scoundrels from Hachisuka are having their meeting."

"Uh, well, 1 don't know where the place is either."

"Even if this is your first time here, I think they know your face well enough."

"Huh?"

"Don't play the innocent."

This is no good, thought Hiyoshi. I didn't fool him at all. Mitsuhide had seen through his lies, and he made no more excuses.

There were no lights in the wood. The wind swept through the leaves, which beat against the great temple roof like spray scouring the gunwales of a ship. The woods behind the temple were like a raging ocean—the trees groaned and the grasses roared.

"Needle seller!"

"Yes, sir."

"Are your comrades here yet?"

"How should I know?"

Mitsuhide sat down on a small stone pagoda at the rear of the temple. "It's nearing the second half of the Hour of the Dog. If you're the only person not accounted for, they'll be on the alert." His spear, caught by the full force of the wind, was right in front of Hiyoshi's feet. "Go show yourself!" Hiyoshi had to admit to himself that Mitsuhide was a step ahead of him from the very start. "Go tell them that Akechi Mitsuhide is waiting here, and that he would like to talk with the leader of the men of Hachisuka."

"Yes, sir." Hiyoshi bowed his head but did not move. "Is it all right if I say this in front of everyone?"

"Yes."

"And that's why you brought me here with you?"

"Yes. Now get going."

"I'll go, but since we may not meet again, I'd like to tell you something."

"Yes?"

"It would be a shame to leave without saying this, because you see me only as a agent of the Hachisuka."

"That's true."

"You're very clever, but your eyes are too sharp, and they go right through the thing they're looking at. When a man hits a nail, he stops where he's supposed to, because going too far is just as bad as not going far enough. Your intelligence is like that. I admit I came to Inabayama with the men from Hachisuka. But my heart's not in it—not at all. I was born in a farming family in Nakamura, and I've done things like selling needles, but haven't reached my goal. I don't intend to spend my life eating cold rice from a ronin’s table. Neither am I going to work as an agitator for some worthless reward. If, by some chance, we meet again, I'll prove to you what I said about you looking too hard at things. For now, I'll go to Hachisuka Shichinai, give him your message, and leave immediately. So good luck! Take good care of yourself, and study hard."

Mitsuhide listened in silence, then suddenly came out of his reverie. "Needle seller! Wait!" he called.

Hiyoshi had already vanished into the storm. He ran into the black woods without hearing Mitsuhide's call. He ran until he got to a small, level bit of land sheltered from the wind by trees. He could see men all about him, scattered like wild horses in a pasture, some sprawling, some sitting, some standing.

"Who's there?"

"It's me."

"Hiyoshi?"

"Yeah."

"Where have you been? You're the last. Everyone's been worried," scolded one man.

"I'm sorry I'm late," he said as he came up to the group. He was trembling. "Where's Master Shichinai?"

"He's over there. Go and apologize. He's real angry."

Four or five members of the gang stood talking around Shichinai.

"Is that Monkey?" Shichinai asked, looking around. Hiyoshi went over to him and made his excuses for being late.

"What were you up to?"

"During the day I was held prisoner by a retainer of the Saito clan," Hiyoshi admitted.

"What?" Shichinai and all the others stared at him nervously, afraid that their plot had been exposed. "You simpleton!" Without warning, he grabbed Hiyoshi by the collar, yanked him forward, and asked roughly, "Where and by whom were you being held? And did you say anything?"

"I talked."

"You what?"

"If I hadn't talked, I wouldn't be alive. I wouldn't be here now."

"You little bastard!" Shichinai gave Hiyoshi a good shaking. "You fool! You blabbed to save your miserable skin. For that, you're going to be the first victim of tonight's bloodbath!"

Shichinai let go and tried to kick him, but Hiyoshi jumped back agilely and Shichinai missed. The two men closest to Hiyoshi grabbed his arms and twisted them behind his back. Struggling to free his arms, Hiyoshi said in one breath, "Don't lose your heads. Hear me out, even though I was caught and talked. They're retainers of Lord Dosan."

They looked relieved, but also still a little doubtful.

"All right, who were they?"

"It was Akechi Mitsuyasu's house. I wasn't being held by him but by his nephew Mitsuhide."

"Ah, the Akechi hanger-on," someone muttered.

Hiyoshi looked at the man, then moved his eyes over the whole group. "This Master Mitsuhide wants to meet with our leader. He came here with me. He's over there. Master Shichinai, won't you go and meet him?"

"Akechi Mitsuyasu's nephew came here with you?"

"Yes."

"Did you tell Mitsuhide everything about tonight's plan?"

"Even if I hadn't, he would have guessed. He's a genius."

"Why did he come?"

"I don't know. He said only that I should guide him here."

"And so you did?"

"There was nothing else I could do."

As Hiyoshi and Shichinai talked, the men around them swallowed hard as they listened. Finally, Shichinai wound things up with a click of his tongue. He stepped forward and asked, "All right, where is he, this Akechi Mitsuhide?"

Everyone talked at once. It was dangerous for Shichinai to meet the man alon. Someone should go with him. Or they should surround the meeting place and stay hidden.

Just then a voice came from behind: "Men of Hachisuka! I have come to you. I should like to meet with Master Shichinai."

They turned toward the voice in stunned surprise. Mitsuhide had approached unnoticed and was calmly observing them.

Shichinai felt a little confused, but being the leader, he stepped forward.

"Are you Hachisuka Shichinai?" asked Mitsuhide.

"I am," Shichinai replied, his head held high. He was in front of his men, but it was common for ronin not to be humble before samurai who served a lord or warriors c even higher status.

Although Mitsuhide was armed with a spear, he bowed and spoke politely. "It's pleasure to meet you. I have heard your name before, as well as the respected name of Master Koroku. I am Akechi Mitsuhide, a retainer of Lord Saito Dosan."

The politeness of the greeting left Shichinai feeling slightly paralyzed. "Well, what do you want?" he asked.

"Tonight's plan."

"What about tonight's plan?" Shichinai asked with feigned indifference.

"It has to do with the particulars I learned from the needle seller, which shocked me into coming here with great speed. Tonight's outrage—it is, perhaps, impolite to call it a outrage—but from the standpoint of military strategy it is very poorly conceived. I can’t believe this is Lord Dosan's idea. I would like you to drop it immediately."

"Never!" Shichinai shouted arrogantly. "This is not being done on my orders. The orders come from Master Koroku, at Lord Dosan's request."

"That's what I assumed to be the case," Mitsuhide said in an ordinary tone of voice

"Naturally, you wouldn't call it off on your own authority. My cousin Mitsuharu has gone to Sagiyama to remonstrate with Lord Dosan. He's to meet with us here. My request is that you all stay here until he comes."

Mitsuhide was always polite to everyone, while also being resolute and courageous. But the effect of courtesy varies with the sensibility of the person spoken to, and there are times when it may lead one party to become arrogant.

Huh! An insignificant youth. He nibbles a little bit of learning, but he's nothing more than a greenhorn, making excuses, thought Shichinai. "We're not waiting!" he shouted and then said bluntly, "Master Mitsuhide, don't stick your nose in where it doesn’t belong. You're just a useless hanger-on. Aren't you one of your uncle's dependents?"

"I don't have time to think about my duty. And this is an emergency for my lord's house."

"If you thought so, you would prepare yourself with armor and provisions, hold the torch as we do, and be at the very vanguard of the attack on Inabayama."

"No, I couldn't do that. There's a certain difficulty in being a retainer."

"How's that?"

"Isn't Lord Yoshitatsu the heir of Lord Dosan? If Lord Dosan is our master, so is Lord Yoshitatsu."

"But if he becomes an enemy?"

"That's despicable. Is it right for father and son to draw bows and shoot at each other? In this world, there are no examples even of birds and beasts doing such a dishonorable thing."

"You're a lot of trouble. Why don't you just go home and leave us alone?"

"I can't do that."

"Huh?"

"I will not leave before Mitsuharu gets here."

Shichinai perceived for the first time a resolute strength in the voice of the young man in front of him. He also saw serious intent in the spear Mitsuhide held at his side.

"Mitsuhide! Are you there?" Mitsuharu rushed up gasping for breath.

"Over here. What happened at the castle?"

"It's no good." Mitsuharu, his shoulders heaving, grasped his cousin's hand. "Lord Dosan will not hear of calling it off, no matter what. Not only he, but also my father, said this is not something that we, as dependents, should be involved in."

"Even my uncle?"

"Yes, he was furious. I was willing to stake my life on it and did the best I could. It's a desperate situation. The troops seemed to be getting ready to leave Sagiyama. I was afraid the town might already be put to the torch, so I came as fast as I could. Mitsuhide, what are we going to do?"

"Is Lord Dosan intent on burning down Inabayama, no matter what?"

"There's no way out. It seems that all we can do is our duty, and die in his service."

"I don't like it one bit! No matter if he is our lord and master, it would be too bad for a man to die in such an unworthy cause. It would be no better than a dog's death."

"Yes, but what can we do?"

"If they don't fire the town, the Sagiyama forces are not likely to move. We must take care of the source of the fire before it gets started." Mitsuhide sounded like a different person. He turned back to face Shichinai and the others, his spear at the ready. Shichinai and his men spread out into a circle.

"What do you think you're doing?" Shichinai barked at Mitsuhide. "Pointing a spear at us? And a poor one, at that?"

"That's exactly what I'm doing." Mitsuhide's voice was firm. "No one is leaving this place. But if you'll think this through, obey me and give up the idea of tonight's outrage, and if you'll go back to Hachisuka village, we'll spare your lives and I'll compensate you as best I can. What do you say?"

"Do you seriously think we can leave now?"

"This is a crisis. It could bring about the collapse of the entire Saito clan. I'm acting to prevent an incident that could bring down both Inabayama and Sagiyama."

"Fool!" a man yelled angrily. "You're still wet behind the ears. Do you think you can stop us? If you try, you'll be the first to be killed."

"I was prepared to die from the first." Mitsuhide's eyebrows were arched like those of a demon. "Mitsuharu!" called Mitsuhide, without changing his stance. "It's a fight to the death! Are you with me?"

"Of course! Don't worry about me." Mitsuharu had already unsheathed his long sword, and stood back-to-back with Mitsuhide. Keeping alive a ray of hope, Mitsuhide made one more appeal to Shichinai. "If you're concerned about losing face when you return to Hachisuka, how about taking me along as a hostage, as unworthy as I am? I'll go to Master Koroku and discuss the rights and wrongs of this affair with him. That way we can finish this business without spilling blood."

Patient and reasonable though his words were, they were heard only as whining. There were more than twenty Hachisuka men arrayed against only two.

"Shut up! Don't listen to him! It's almost past the Hour of the Dog already!"

A couple of men let out war cries, and Mitsuhide and Mitsuharu were engulfed in the fangs of a wolfpack—halberds, spears, and swords on every side. The yelling of men and the clashing of weapons mingled with the roaring of the wind, and the scene was rapidly turned into the horrible maelstrom of war.

Swords broke and the pieces went flying. Spears chased fleeing sprays of blood. Hiyoshi thought it was too dangerous to be in the midst of this carnage, so he hurriedly climbed a tree. He had seen drawn swords before, but it was the first time he had been in a real battle. Would Inabayama be transformed into a sea of flames? Would there battle between Dosan and Yoshitatsu? When he understood that this was life or death, he became more excited than ever in his life.

It took only two or three dead bodies to prompt the Hachisuka men to flee into the woods.

Ya! They're running away! Hiyoshi thought, and just in case they came back, he prudently stayed put in his tree. It was probably a chestnut tree, because something pricked his hands and the back of his neck. A scattering of nuts and twigs fell to the ground, for the tree was being shaken by the storm. He despised the men of Hachisuka as a bunch of loudmouthed cowards who had been routed by only two men. He listened hard. "What’s that?" He became flustered. It was a rain of cinders like volcanic ash. He looked through the branches. The men of Hachisuka had set their fires as they fled. Two or three parts of the woods were beginning to burn fiercely, and several of the buildings behind the Jozaiji had caught fire.

Hiyoshi jumped down from the tree and started to run. If he lost even a moment, he would be burned to death in the wood. In a daze, he ran to the burning town. The sky was filled with sparks of flame—birds of fire, butterflies of fire. The white walls of Inabayama Castle, now shining red, looked closer than during the day. Red clouds of war were swirling around them.

"It's war!" Hiyoshi yelled as he ran on through the streets. "It's war! It's the end!

Sagiyama and Inabayama will fall! But in the burnt ruins, the grass will grow again. This time the grass will grow straight!"

He ran into people.

A riderless horse galloped by.

At a crossroads, refugees clustered together, shuddering in terror. Hiyoshi, carried away by the excitement, ran at full speed, screaming like a prophet of doom. Where to? He had no destination. He could not go back to Hachisuka village, that was for sure. In any event, he left without regret what he disliked most: a gloomy people, a dark lord, civil war, and a tainted culture, all within the rotting earth of a single province.

He spent the winter in his thin cotton clothes, selling needles under a cold sky, wandering wherever his feet took him. The next year, the twenty-second year of Temmon, when the peach blossoms were everywhere, he was still calling out, "Won't you buy needles? Needles from the capital! Sewing needles from the capital!"

He approached the outskirts of Hamamatsu, walking along as carefree as ever.

Another Master



Matsushita Kahei was a native of Enshu province. The son of a country samurai, he had become a retainer of the Imagawa clan, with a domain in Suruga and a stipend of three thousand kan. He was governor of the fortress at Zudayama and chief administrator of the relay station at Magome Bridge. In those days the Tenryu River was divided into Big and the Little Tenryu. The Matsushita residence was on the banks of the Big Tenryu, a few hundred yards east of Zudayama.

That day Kahei was returning from the neighboring Hikuma Castle, where he had been conferring with a fellow Imagawa retainer. The officials of the province met regularly to tighten their control over the people and to guard against invasion from neighboring clans: Tokugawa, Oda, and Takeda.

Kahei turned in his saddle and called one of his three attendants: "Nohachiro!"

The man who answered was bearded and carried a long spear. Taga Nohachiro ran up to his master's horse. They were traveling along the road between Hikumanawata and the Magome ferry. Trees lined the road, and there was a pleasant view of fields and rice paddies.

"He's not a farmer, and he doesn't look like a pilgrim," Kahei mumbled.

Nohachiro followed Kahei's line of sight. He took in the flaming yellow of the mustard flowers, the green of the barley, and the shallow water in the paddies, but did not anyone.

"Anything suspicious?"

"Over there, on the path next to that rice paddy, there's a man. Looks a little little like a heron. What do you suppose he's up to?"

Nohachiro took another look and saw that, sure enough, there was a man stooping over on the path by the paddy.

"Find out what he's doing."

Nohachiro ran off along a narrow path. It was the rule in all the provinces that anything that looked the least bit suspicious was to be investigated immediately. Provincial officials were particularly sensitive about their borders and the appearance of strangers.

Nohachiro came back and made his report: "He says he's a needle seller from Owari. He's wearing a stained white cotton smock. That's why from here he reminds you of a heron. He's a little fellow with a face like a monkey's."

"Ha, ha! Not a heron or a crow, but a monkey, eh?"

"And a talkative one, too. Likes to spit out big words. While I was questioning him, he tried to turn things around. He asked me who my master was, and when I told him who you were, he stood up and looked over this way very boldly."

"What was he doing, stooping over like that?"

"He told me he was putting up for the night at a lodging house in Magome, and he was collecting pond snails to eat this evening."

Kahei saw that Hiyoshi had gone up onto the road and was walking on ahead of diem.

He asked Nohachiro, "There was nothing suspicious about him, was there?"

"Nothing I could see."

Kahei took a fresh grip on the reins. "One shouldn't blame low-bred people for their bad manners." Then, motioning his men on with a nod of the head, he said, "Let's go." It did not take them long to catch up with Hiyoshi. Just as they passed him, Kahei looked around casually. Hiyoshi, of course, had moved off the road and was kneeling respectfully under a row of trees. Their eyes met.

"Just a minute." Kahei reined in his horse and, turning to his attendants, said, "Bring the needle seller over here." And, to no one in particular, he added with a note of wonder in his voice, "He's an unusual fellow… yes, there's something different about him."

Nohachiro decided that this was another of his master's whims and promptly ran off.

"Hey! Needle seller! My master would like a word with you. Follow me."

Kahei looked down at Hiyoshi. What was it about this short, unkempt youth in soiled clothes that he found so fascinating? It was not his resemblance to a monkey, which he had hardly taken in. He took a long, hard second look at Hiyoshi, but he could not put into words what he felt. Something that was at once complex and formless pulled at him—it was the boy's eyes! The eyes had been called the mirrors of the soul. He could see little else of value in this shriveled little creature, but the look in his eyes was so full of laughter that it was somehow fresh and seemed to contain… what? An indomitable will, or maybe a vision that knew no bounds?

He has magnetism, thought Kahei, and he decided he liked this strange-looking boy. If his assessment had been more thorough, he would have discovered, hidden beneath the traveler's black grime, ears as red as a rooster's comb. Nor did he see that, though Hiyoshi was still young, the great ability he would display in later years was already visible in the lines on his forehead, which made him look like an old man at first glance. Kahei's discernment simply did not go that far. He felt an unusual attachment toward Hiyoshi, mixed with some kind of expectation.

Unable to rid himself of the feeling but without saying a word to Hiyoshi, he turned to Nohachiro and said, "Bring him along." He tightened his reins and galloped off.

The front gate facing the river was open, and several retainers were waiting for him. A tethered horse was grazing near the gate. Apparently a visitor had arrived during his absence.

"Who is it?" he asked as he dismounted.

"A messenger from Sumpu."

Kahei acknowledged the information and went in. Sumpu was the capital of the Imagawa clan. Messengers were not especially rare, but Kahei was preoccupied with his meeting in Hikuma Castle, so he forgot all about Hiyoshi.

"Hey, you, where do you think you're going?" challenged the gatekeeper as Hiyoshi was about to follow the attendants through the gate. His hands and the straw-wrapped package he carried were spattered with mud. The splotches of mud drying on his face felt itchy. Had the gatekeeper thought that Hiyoshi was poking fun at him by twitching his nose on purpose? The gatekeeper reached out to grab Hiyoshi by the scruff of the neck.

Stepping back, Hiyoshi answered, "I'm a needle seller."

"Peddlers don't come through this gate without authorization. Off with you!"

"You better check with your master first."

"And why should I do that?"

"I followed him here because he told me to. I came with the samurai who came in just now."

"I can't imagine the master bringing the likes of you back. You look pretty shady to me."

Just then, Nohachiro remembered Hiyoshi and came back to get him. "It's all right, he told the gatekeeper.

"Well, if you say so."

"Come along, Monkey."

The gatekeeper and the other servants burst out laughing. "What is he, anyway? With his white smock and muddy straw bundle, he looks just like the Buddha's monkey messenger!"

The boisterous voices rang in Hiyoshi's ears, but during the seventeen years of his life he had had ample opportunity to hear the taunts of others. Didn't they bother him? Had he got used to them? It seems that neither was the case. When he heard this kind of remark he blushed, just like anyone else. His ears, especially, turned bright red. This was proof that the taunts did not go unheard. But his behavior did not reflect his feeling.  He was as calm as if the insults had been spoken into the ears of a horse. In fact, he could be disarmingly charming at such times. His heart was like a flower held up by a bamboo support, quietly waiting for the storm to pass. He was not going to be upset by adversity, nor would he be servile.

"Monkey, there's an empty stable over there. You can wait there, where the sight of you won't offend anyone," said Nohachiro, who then went about his business.

When evening came, the smell of cooking drifted from the kitchen window. The moon rose over the peach trees. The formal interview with the messenger from Sumpu being finished, more lamps were lit, and a banquet was prepared to send him on his way the following day. The sound of the hand drum and a flute drifted over from the mansion, where a Noh play was being performed.

The Imagawa of Suruga were a proud and illustrious family. Their tastes ran not only to poetry, dance, and music but to any luxury from the capital: inlaid swords for their samurai and stylish under-kimonos for their women. Kahei himself was a man of simple tastes. Nevertheless, his opulent residence presented a quite different appearance from the mansions of the samurai of Kiyosu.

That's pretty bad Noh, Hiyoshi thought, as he lay stretched out on the straw he had spread on the floor of the empty stall. He liked music. Not that he understood it, but he liked the cheery world of dreams it created. It allowed him to forget everything. But he was distracted by his empty stomach. Oh, if I could only borrow a pot and a fire, he groaned inwardly.

Taking his dirty straw bundle with him, he stuck his head through the door of the kitchen. "Excuse me, but I wonder if you couldn't lend me a pot and a small cooking stove. I was thinking of eating my meal."

The kitchen helpers stared blankly back at him. "Where in the world did you come from?"

"His lordship brought me back with him today. I'd like to boil the pond snails I picked from the rice paddies."

"Pond snails, eh?"

"I've been told they're good for the stomach, so I eat some every day. That's because I get stomach upset easily."

"You eat them with bean paste. Do you have any?"

"Yes."

"Rice?"

"I have rice, thank you."

"Well, there's a pot and a fire in the stove in the servants' quarters. Do it over there."

Just as he did every night in cheap lodging houses, Hiyoshi cooked up a small portion of rice, boiled his pond snails, and ate his evening meal. Then he went to sleep. The servants' quarters being an improvement over the stable, he stayed there until midnight, when the servants finished their chores and came back.

"You swine! Who told you you could sleep here?"

They kicked him, picked him up, and threw him out. He went back to the stable, only to find the messenger's horse fast asleep and seeming to say, "You don't belong here, either."

The hand drum had fallen silent, and the pale moon was waning. Hiyoshi, no longer sleepy, could not stand being idle. Work or fun, it didn't matter much to him, but if he wasn't involved in one or the other, he very quickly became bored.

Maybe the sun will come while I'm sweeping up, he thought as he started to sweep the stable, collecting the horse manure, fallen leaves, and straw into a pile, out of the master's sight.

"Who's out there?" Resting his broom, Hiyoshi looked around. "Ah, it's the needle seller."

Hiyoshi finally saw that the voice was coming from the lavatory at the corner of the main house's veranda. He could make out Kahei's face inside. "Oh, it's you, my lord."

Drinking sake with the messenger, who was a strong drinker, Kahei had drunk too much. Now, almost sober again, he asked in a tired voice, "Is it close to dawn?" He disappeared from the window, opened the rain shutters of the veranda, and looked up at the waning moon.

"The cock hasn't crowed yet, so it'll be a little while until dawn."

"Needle seller—no, we'll call you Monkey—why are you sweeping the garden in the middle of the night?"

"I had nothing to do."

"It would probably be a good idea to get some sleep."

"I already slept. When I've slept for a certain amount of time, for some reason I can’t lie still anymore."

"Are there any sandals?"

Hiyoshi quickly found a pair of new straw sandals and arranged them so that Kahei could step into them easily.

"Here you are, my lord."

"You just got here today, and you say you've already slept enough. How is it you know the lay of the land already?"

"Please excuse me, my lord."

"What for?"

"I'm not a suspicious person at all. But in this kind of mansion, even when I’m asleep, by hearing various sounds, I can guess where things are located, the size of the grounds, the drainage system, and where the fires are."

"Hm. I see."

"I noticed where the straw sandals were earlier. It occurred to me that someone might come out and ask for sandals."

"I'm sorry. I forgot all about you."

Hiyoshi laughed but made no reply. Although he was no more than a boy, he did not seem to respect Kahei very much. Kahei then asked him about his background and whether he had hopes of serving someone. Hiyoshi assured him that he had. He had high hopes for the future and had been walking throughout the provinces from the time was fifteen.

"You walked around the provinces for two years, wanting to serve a samurai?"

"Yes."

"Why, then, are you still a needle seller?" Kahei asked pointedly. "Looking for two years without finding a master—I wonder if there isn't something wrong with you?"

"I have good and bad points, just like any other man. At first I thought any master or any samurai household would do, but once I went out into the world, I started to feel differently."

"Differently? How?"

"Walking around and looking at the warrior class as a whole—the good generals, the bad generals, the lords of large and small provinces—led me to think that there is nothing so important as choosing a master. Therefore, I decided to go on with my needle selling and before I knew it, two years had gone by."

Kahei thought he was clever, but there was also something of the fool about him. And though there was some truth in what he said, he sounded very pretentious and a little hard to believe. There was one thing that was beyond doubt, though: here was no ordi­nary young man. He decided on the spot to employ Hiyoshi as a servant.

"Will you serve me?"

"Thank you, my lord. I'll try," Hiyoshi answered with little enthusiasm in his voice.

Kahei was dissatisfied with Hiyoshi's joyless reply, but it did not occur to him, as the new master of this wandering youth clothed in nothing more than a thin cotton coat, that he himself might be deficient in some respect.

Like the samurai of the other clans, the Matsushita samurai received intensive train­ing in the horsemanship needed for battle. At daybreak they left their dormitories with practice spears and swords, and went to the broad field in front of the rice storehouse.

"Hiyaaa!" Spear clashed against spear, sword against sword. In the morning, every­one, down to the lower-ranking samurai in the kitchen and the men who pulled guard duty, gave their all and came away from the field with faces bright red from exertion. That Hiyoshi had been taken on as a servant was soon common knowledge throughout the mansion. The stable attendants treated him as a rank beginner and ordered him about.

"Hey, Monkey! Every morning from now on, after we take the horses out to graze, clean out the stables. Bury the horse manure in that bamboo thicket." After he had fin­ished cleaning up the horse manure, one of the older samurai told him, "Fill the big water jars." And so it went on: "Split the firewood." While he was splitting the firewood, he'd be told to do something else. In short, he was the servants' servant.

He was popular at first. People said, "Nothing makes him mad, does it? His good point is that no matter what you tell him to do, he doesn't get angry." The young samurai liked him, but in the way that children like a new toy, and sometimes they gave him pres­ents. But it was not long before people started to complain about him.

"He's always arguing."

"He flatters the master."

"He takes people for fools."

Since the younger samurai made a lot of noise over small faults, there were times when the complaints about Hiyoshi reached Kahei's ears.

"Let's see how it goes," he told his retainers, and let the matter drop.

That Kahei's wife and children always asked for Monkey made the other young men of the household even angrier. Puzzled, Hiyoshi decided that it was difficult to live among people who did not want to devote themselves to work, as he himself preferred to do.

Living in the servants' world of petty sentiments, Hiyoshi studied human nature. With the Matsushita clan as a point of reference, he was able to understand the strengths and weaknesses of the great clans along the coastal road. And he was happy to have be­come a servant. He could now partly understand the true state of the country, which had been difficult to grasp when he was wandering around from place to place. An ordinary servant, who worked only to eat and survive, would hardly know what the world was re­ally like. But Hiyoshi's mind was always on the alert. It was like watching the stones on a go board and catching on to the moves made by the players.

The messengers from the Imagawa of Suruga were frequent, as were those from the neighboring provinces of Mikawa and Kai. He began to see a pattern in their comings and goings, and concluded that Imagawa Yoshimoto, lord of Suruga, was making a bid to grasp supreme power in the land. The realization of his goal was probably a long way off, but he was already making the initial moves to enter the capital, Kyoto, ostensibly protect the Shogun, but really to rule the country in his name.

To the east were the powerful Hojo of Odawara; the Takeda of Kai were on the Northern flank; and barring the road to the capital was the domain of the Tokugawa of Mikawa. Thus surrounded, Yoshimoto had first aimed at subjugating Mikawa. Tokugawa Kiyoyasu, lord of Mikawa, had submitted to Yoshimoto and had resigned himself to being his retainer. Kiyoyasu's son, Hirotada, had not outlived him very long, and his successor, Ieyasu, was now living as a hostage in Sumpu.

Yoshimoto had made one of his own retainers governor of Okazaki Castle, and put him in charge of administering Mikawa and collecting taxes. The retainers of the Tokugawa were press-ganged into serving the Imagawa, and all the revenues and militar supplies of the province, with the exception of its day-to-day running expenses, went to Yoshimoto's castle in Suruga. Hiyoshi thought that Mikawa's future was bleak indeed. He knew from his travels as a peddler that the men of Mikawa were stubborn and proud; they would not meekly submit forever.

But the clan he watched most closely was naturally the Oda of Owari. Although he was now far from Nakamura, Owari was his birthplace and his mother's home.  Seen from the Matsushita mansion, Owari's poverty and small size compared unfavorably with other provinces, with the exception of Mikawa. The contrast with the sophisticated and prosperous Imagawa domain was especially striking. His home village of Nakamura was poor, and so was his own home. What would become of Owari? He thought that someday, something worthwhile might grow from its poor soil. He despised the effete manners of both high and low in the Imagawa domain. They aped the manners of the court, a practice that Hiyoshi had long thought dangerous.

The messengers were coming more often of late. To Hiyoshi this meant that talks were being held to tie the provinces of Suruga, Kai, and Sagami in a nonaggression pact, with the Imagawa clan as the center. The prime mover, of course, was Imagawa Yoshimoto. Before marching to the capital at the head of a great army, he would have to secure the allegiance of the Hojo and the Takeda. As a first step, Yoshimoto had decided to marry his daughter to Takeda Shingen's eldest son and have one of Shingen's daughters marry into the house of the Hojo. This, along with military and economic pacts, made Imagawa a power to be reckoned with on the eastern seaboard. This power was reflected in the bearing of the Imagawa retainers. A man like Matsushita Kahei was different from the immediate retainers of Yoshimoto, but he, too, had incomparably more wealth than did the samurai houses Hiyoshi knew in Kiyosu, Nagoya, and Okazaki. Guests were numerous, and even the servants seemed to be having the time of their lives.

"Monkey!" Nohachiro was looking for Hiyoshi in the garden.

"Up here."

Nohachiro looked up to the roof. "What are you doing up there?"

"I'm repairing the roof."

Nohachiro was amazed. "You're making it hard on yourself on such a hot day. Why are you doing it?"

"The weather has been fine so far, but it'll soon be time for the fall rains. Calling the roofers after the rains start will be too late, so I'm finding split planks and repairing them."

"That's why you're unpopular around here. At noon, everyone else has found a spot in the shade."

"If I worked near others, I'd disturb their naps. Up here, I won't bother anybody."

"You're lying. I'll bet you're up there to study the layout of the grounds."

"It's just like you, Master Nohachiro, to think like that. But if a man doesn't take note of things, when an emergency comes, he won't be ready to defend himself."

"Don't talk like that. If the master hears of it, he'll be angry. Get down from there!"

"Sure. Do you have any work for me?"

"There are guests coming this evening."

"Again?"

"What do you mean, 'again'?"

"Who's coming?"

"A student of the martial arts who's traveled throughout the country."

"How many in the group?" Hiyoshi climbed down from the roof. Nohachiro took out a parchment. "We're expecting the nephew of Lord Kamiizumi of Ogo, Hitta Shohaku. He is traveling with twelve followers. There'll be another rider and three packhorses and their attendants."

"That's a fair-sized group."

"These men have dedicated their lives to the study of martial arts. There'll be a lot of baggage and horses, so clear out the storehouse workers' quarters, and we'll put them up there for the time being. Have the place swept clean by evening, before they get here."

"Yes, sir. Will they be staying long?"

"About six months," Nohachiro said. Looking tired, he wiped the sweat off his face.

In the evening Shohaku and his men brought their horses to a halt in front of the gate and brushed the dust off their clothes. Senior and junior retainers came out to meet them, and gave them an elaborate ceremonial welcome. There were lengthy words of greeting from the hosts, and no less respectful and eloquent a reply from Shohaku, a man of about thirty. Once the formalities were over, servants took charge of the packhorses and baggage, and the guests, led by Shohaku, entered the mansion compound.

Hiyoshi had enjoyed watching the elaborate show. Its formality made him realize how much the prestige of warriors had risen with the growing importance of military matters. Lately the term "martial arts" was on everyone's lips, along with other new expressions like "sword technique" and "spear technique." Martial artists like Kamiizumi of Ogo and Tsukahara of Hitachi were household names. The travels of some of these men were far more rigorous than the pilgrimages of wandering Buddhist monks. But men like Tsukahara were always accompanied by sixty or seventy followers. Their retainers carried hawks and traveled in grand style.

The number of Shohaku's party did not surprise Hiyoshi. But since they were going to be there for six months, he suspected rightly that he was going to be ordered around until his head spun. No more than four or five days had passed before he was being worked as hard as one of their own servants.

"Hey, Monkey! My underwear is dirty. Wash it."

"Lord Matsushita's monkey! Go and buy me some ointment."

The summer nights were short, and the extra work cut into his sleeping time, so at noon one day he was fast asleep in the shade of a paulownia tree. He was leaning against the trunk, his head dangling to one side and his arms folded. On the parched earth, the only thing that moved was a procession of ants.

A couple of young samurai, who disliked him, walked past carrying practice spears.

"Well, look here. It's Monkey."

"Having a good sleep, isn't he?"

"He's just a lazy good-for-nothing. How come he's the master and mistress's pet? They wouldn't like it if they saw him like this."

"Wake him up. Let's teach him a lesson."

"What do you have in mind?"

"Isn't Monkey the only one who hasn't once gone to martial-arts practice?"

"That's probably because he knows he's not well liked. He's afraid of getting hit."

"That's not right. It's the duty of all the servants of a warrior house to train hard in the martial arts. That's what it says in the household regulations."

"You don't have to tell me. Tell Monkey."

"I say we wake him up and take him to the practice field."

"Yeah, that'd be interesting."

One of the men struck Hiyoshi's shoulder with the point of his spear.

"Hey, wake up!"

Hiyoshi's eyes stayed shut.

"Wake up!" The man lifted Hiyoshi's feet with his spear. Hiyoshi slipped down the tree trunk and awoke with a start.

"What are you doing?" he asked.

"What do you think you're doing, snoring away in the garden in broad daylight?"

"Me, sleeping?"

"Well, weren't you?"

"Maybe I fell asleep without meaning to. I'm awake now though."

"Impertinent little ass! I've heard that you haven't spent one single day at martial-arts practice."

"That's because I'm no good."

"If you never practice, how do you know? Even though you're a servant, the household regulations say you have to practice the martial arts. From today on, we'll see that you practice."

"No, thanks."

"Are you refusing to obey the household regulations?"

"No, but—"

"Come on, let's go!" Allowing no further protest, they dragged Hiyoshi forcibly to the field in front of the storehouse. They were going to teach him a lesson for disobeying the household regulations.

Under the burning sky, the visiting martial artists and the Matsushita retainers were training hard.

The young samurai who had brought Hiyoshi urged him forward with hard blows to the back.

"Get yourself a wooden sword or spear and fight!"

Hiyoshi tottered forward, barely able to stand, but he did not pick up a weapon.

"What are you waiting for?" One man gave him a sharp rap on the chest with his spear. "We're going to give you some practice, so get a weapon!" Hiyoshi staggered for­ward again but still would not fight. He just chewed his lip obstinately.

Two of Shohaku's men, Jingo Gorokuro and Sakaki Ichinojo, were having a trial of strength with real spears in response to a request from the Matsushita men. Gorokuro, who wore a headband, was spearing two-hundred-pound rice bags and flinging them in the air in a show of apparently superhuman strength.

"With that kind of skill, it must be easy to fly at a man on the battlefield. His strength is astonishing!" said one of the spectators.

Gorokuro corrected him. "If you men think this is a technique of strength, you're badly mistaken. If you put strength into this technique, the shaft of the spear will break and your arms will quickly get tired." He put his spear aside and explained, "The principles of the sword and the spear are the same. The secret of all the martial arts is in the ch'i, the subtle energy of the tan t'ien, the area two inches below the navel. This is strength without strength. One must have the mental power to transcend the need for strength and regulate the flow of ch'i ." He lectured with enthusiasm and at length.

Deeply impressed, his audience listened attentively, until they were disturbed by a noise behind them.

"You obstinate monkey!" The young samurai swung the handle of his spear, hitting Hiyoshi in the hip.

"Ow!" yelled Hiyoshi in a tearful voice. The blow had obviously hurt. He screwed up his face and doubled over, rubbing his hip. The group broke up and re-formed around Hiyoshi.

"Lazy good-for-nothing!" yelled the man who had struck Hiyoshi. "He says he's no good and doesn't want to come to practice."

Hiyoshi found himself the center of a grumbling crowd, accused of being unrepentant and insolent.

"Well, well," said Shohaku, coming forward and calming them down. "Judging from appearances, he's still just a suckling, at an age when impertinence blooms. Flouting the household regulations while in the employ of a warrior house and having no taste for the martial arts is this fellow's misfortune. I'll do the questioning. The rest of you be quiet.

"Young man," he said to Hiyoshi.

"Yes." Hiyoshi looked straight at Shohaku as he answered. But his tone of voice had changed, for the look in his questioner's eyes said that Shohaku was the kind of man to whom he could speak freely.

"It seems you dislike the martial arts, even though you're employed in a warrior house. Is this true?"

"No." Hiyoshi shook his head.

"Then why, when these retainers kindly offer to drill you in the martial arts, do you not take them up on it?"

"Yes, well, there's a reason for that. If I were to discipline myself in the way of the spear or sword and became an expert, it would probably take up my entire life."

"Yes, you must have that kind of spirit."

"It isn't that I dislike either spear or sword, but when I consider that I won't be able to live more than one normal lifespan, I think it's probably enough to know only the spirit of these things. The reason is that there are so many other things that I would like to study and do."

"What would you like to study?"

"Learning."

"What would you like to learn?"

"About the whole world."

"What are the things you'd like to do?"

Hiyoshi smiled. "That I won't say."

"Why not?"

"I want to do things, but unless I do them, talking about them will only sound like boasting. And if I talked about them out loud, you'd all just laugh."

Shohaku stared at Hiyoshi, thinking how unusual he was. "I think I understand a little of what you say, but you're mistaken about the martial arts being the practice of small techniques."

"What are they, then?"

"According to one school of thought, when a person has learned a single skill, he will have mastered all the arts. The martial arts are not simply techniques—they are of the mind. If one cultivates the mind deeply, one is able to penetrate everything, including the arts of learning and government, see the world for what it is, and judge people."

"But I'll bet the people here consider striking and piercing their opponents as the best art of all. That should be useful for a foot soldier or the ordinary rank and file, but would it be essential for a great general who—"

"Watch your mouth!" scolded one of the samurai, landing a solid punch on Hiyoshi's cheek.

"Ow!" Hiyoshi put both hands over his mouth as though his jaw had been broken.

"These insulting remarks cannot be ignored. This is getting to be a habit. Master Shohaku, please withdraw. We'll take care of this."

The resentment was widespread. Almost all those who had heard Hiyoshi had something to say.

"He insulted us!"

"It's the same as mocking the household regulations!"

"Inexcusable ass!"

"Cut him down! The master won't blame us for it."

In their anger, it seemed they might carry out their threat, dragging him into the thicket and cutting his head off there and then. It was difficult for Shohaku to stop them. It took all his strength to calm them down and save Hiyoshi's life.

That evening, Nohachiro came to the servants' quarters and called softly to Hiyoshi who was sitting all alone in a corner, making a face as though he had a toothache.

"Yes. What is it?" His face was badly swollen.

"Does it hurt?"

"No, not much," he lied. He pressed the damp towel to his face.

"The master has asked for you. Go through the rear garden so that you won't be seen."

"Huh? The master? Well, I suppose he's heard about what happened today."

"The disrespectful things you said were bound to reach his ears. And Master Hitta came to see him a little while ago, so he must have. He may carry out the execution himself."

"Do you think so?"

"It's an iron rule of the Matsushita clan that servants should not be slack in their practice of the martial arts, day or night. When the master has to make a special effort to uphold the dignity of the household regulations, you should consider your head already lost."

"Well, then, I'll run away from here. I don't want to die over something like this."

"You're talking nonsense!" He grabbed Hiyoshi's wrists. "If you ran away, I'd have to commit seppuku. I've been ordered to bring you along."

"I can't even run away?" Hiyoshi asked artlessly.

"Your mouth is really too much. Think a little bit before you open it. Hearing what you said today, even I thought you nothing but a boastful monkey."

Nohachiro made Hiyoshi walk ahead of him, and he kept a firm grip on the hilt of the sword. White gnats swarmed in the gathering darkness. The light from lamps inside spilled out onto the veranda of the library, which had just been sprinkled with water.

"I've brought Monkey." Nohachiro knelt as he spoke.

Kahei appeared on the veranda. "He's here, is he?"

Hearing the voice above his head, Hiyoshi bowed so low that his forehead touched the garden moss.

"Monkey."

"Yes, my lord."

"It seems that a new type of armor is being made in Owari. It's called domaru. Go buy a set. It's your home province, so I presume you'll have no trouble moving around freely."

"My lord?"

"Leave tonight."

"Where to?"

"To where you can buy domaru armor." Kahei took some money from a box, wrapped it, and tossed it in front of Hiyoshi. Hiyoshi looked back and forth between Kahei and the money. His eyes filled with tears that rolled off his cheeks and onto the backs of his hands.

"It would be best if you left without delay, but you don't have to be in a hurry to bring back the armor. Even if it takes several years, find me the best possible set." Then he iaid to Nohachiro, "Let him out by the rear gate quietly, and before the night is over."

What an abrupt turnabout! Hiyoshi felt a chill creep over him. Here he had expected to be killed for running afoul of the household regulations, and now…the chill came from his reaction to Kahei's sympathy—his sense of gratitude—and it penetrated to the very marrow of his bones.

"Thank you very much." While Kahei had not spelled out what he had in mind Hiyoshi already understood.

His quickness bewilders the people around him, Kahei thought. It's only natural that this breeds resentment and jealousy. He smiled bitterly and asked aloud, "Why are you thanking me?"

"For letting me go."

"That's right. But, Monkey…"

"Yes, my lord?"

"If you don't hide that intelligence of yours, you'll never succeed."

"I know."

"If you knew, why did you speak abusively like today, making everybody angry?"

"I'm inexperienced…I hit my head with my own fist after I said it."

"I'm not going to say any more. Because your intelligence is valuable, I'm going to help you. I can tell you now that those who resented you and were jealous of you accused you of theft on the slightest pretext. If a pin was lost, or a dirk or a pillbox was misplaced they'd point their fingers at you and say, 'It was Monkey.' There was no end to their spiteful talk. You easily provoke the resentment of others. You should understand that abou yourself."

"Yes, my lord."

"There was no reason for me to help you today. My retainers' point was well taken.  As I was informed about this matter in private by Master Shohaku, it's as if I hadn't heard about it yet and were sending you off on a mission. Do you understand?"

"I understand very well. I have engraved it on my heart."

Hiyoshi's nose was stopped up. He bowed to Kahei again and again.

That night he left the Matsushita house.

Turning to look back, he vowed, I won't forget. I won't forget.

Wrapped up in this man's great kindness, Hiyoshi wondered how he could best repay him. Only one who was always surrounded by brutality and ridicule could feel another’s sympathy so intensely.

Someday… someday. Whenever impressed by something or overwhelmed by event he repeated this word like a pilgrim's prayer.

Once again he was wandering like a homeless dog, without aim and without work. The Tenryu was in flood, and when he was far away from human habitation, he felt like crying out at his loneliness, at the unknown fate that awaited him. Neither the universe nor the stars nor the waters could give him any kind of sign.

The Idiot Lord

"Excuse me!" A voice called a second time.

Otowaka, off duty that day, was in his regiment's dormitory, taking a nap. He woke up, raised his head, and looked around.

"Who is it?"

"It's me," a voice said from beyond the hedge, where the tendrils of bindweed entwined themselves around the leaves and thorns of Chinese orange. From the balcony, Otowaka could see someone on the other side of the dust-covered hedge. He went out on the veranda.

"Who is it? If you have some business, come in by the front gate."

"It's locked."

Otowaka stretched to get a good look and exclaimed, "Why, it's Yaemon's son Monkey, isn't it?"

"Yes."

"Why didn't you say who you were, instead of groaning out there like a ghost?"

"Well, the front gate wasn't open, and when I peeped through the back, you were asleep," he said deferentially. "Then you got a little restless, and I thought I'd try calling you again."

"You needn't be so reserved. I guess my wife locked the gate when she went out shopping. I'll open it for you."

After Hiyoshi had washed his feet and come into the house, Otowaka stared at him for a long time before saying, "What have you been up to? It's been two years since we met on the road. There's been no news of whether you were alive or dead, and your mother's been terribly worried. Did you let her know you were all right?"

"Not yet."

"Aren't you going home?"

"I went home just for a bit before coming here."

"And you still didn't show your face to your mother?"

"Actually, I went secretly to the house last night, but after one look at my mother and sister, I turned around and came here."

"You're a strange one. It's the house where you were born, isn't it? Why didn't you let them know you were safe, and put them at ease?"

"Well, I wanted to see them very much, but when I left home, I swore I wouldn’t return until I'd made something of myself. The way I am now, I couldn't face stepfather."

Otowaka took a second look at him. Hiyoshi's white cotton smock had been turned gray by dust, rain, and dew. His greasy hair and his thin, sunburned cheeks somehow completed the picture of exhaustion. He was the image of a man who had failed to reach his goal.

"What do you do to eat?"

"I sell needles."

"You're not working for anyone?"

"I worked at two or three places, not very high-class samurai households, but—"

"As usual, you soon got tired of them, I suppose. How old are you now?"

"Seventeen."

"There's nothing a man can do if he's born stupid, but don't overdo it in acting the simpleton. There's a limit. Fools have the patience to be treated like fools, but that doesn’t hold for you and your mistakes. Look, it's natural that your mother is grieving and your stepfather's embarrassed. Monkey! What in the world are you going to do now?"

Although Otowaka scolded Hiyoshi for his lack of perseverance, he also felt sorry for him. He had been a close friend of Yaemon's, and he was well aware that Chikuami had treated his stepchildren harshly. He prayed that Hiyoshi might make something of himself for his dead father's sake.

Otowaka's wife came back just then, and she spoke up for Hiyoshi: "He's Onaka's son, not yours, isn't he? Who do you think you're scolding? You're just wasting your breath. I feel sorry for the boy." She fetched a watermelon that had been cooling in the well, cut it up, and served it to Hiyoshi.

"He's still just seventeen? Why, he doesn't know anything," she said. "Think back to when you were his age. Even though you're past forty, you're still a foot soldier. T makes you pretty ordinary, doesn't it?"

"Be quiet," Otowaka said, looking hurt. "Since I don't think young men should have to spend their lives like me, I have something to say to them. After the coming-of-age ceremony, they're considered adults, but when they're seventeen, they have to be men already. It's a bit irreverent, maybe, but look at our master, Lord Nobunaga. How old do you think he is?" He started to tell her but then quickly changed the subject, perhaps for fear of getting into an argument with his wife. "Oh, yes, we'll probably go hunting with His Lordship again tomorrow. Then, on the way back, we'll practice fording the Shonai River on horseback and by swimming. Have my things ready—a cord for my armor, and my straw sandals."

Hiyoshi, who had his head down, listening, raised it and said, "Excuse me, sir."

"Being formal again?"

"I don't mean to be. Does Lord Nobunaga go hunting and swimming that much?"

"It's not my place to say it, but he's an awfully mischievous lad."

"He's wild, is he?"

"You'd think so, but then there are times he can be very well mannered."

"He's got a bad reputation from one end of the country to the other."

"Is that so? Well, I guess he's not very popular with his enemies."

Hiyoshi suddenly stood up and said, "I'm really sorry to have bothered you on your day off."

"You don't have to leave so soon, do you? Why don't you stay the night, at least? Did I hurt your feelings?"

"No, not at all."

"I won't stop you if you insist, but why don't you go and show yourself to your mother?"

"Yes, I'll do that. I'll go to Nakamura tonight."

"That would be good." Otowaka went out as far as the gate and saw Hiyoshi off, but he felt that something was not quite right.

Hiyoshi did not go home that night. Where did he sleep? Perhaps he camped out at a roadside shrine or under the eaves of a temple. He had received money from Matsushita Kahei, but in Nakamura the night before, after peeking through the hedge to see that his mother was all right, he had tossed it into the yard. So he did not have any money left, but because the summer night was short, he did not have to wait long for the dawn.

Early the next morning he left the village of Kasugai and went in the direction of Biwajima, walking at a leisurely pace, eating as he walked. He had some rice balls wrapped in lotus leaves tied to his belt. But how did he eat without money?

Food can be found anywhere. That's because it's heaven's gift to mankind. This was an article of faith with Hiyoshi. The birds and the beasts receive heaven's bounty. But man has been ordered to work for the world, and those who don't work can't eat. Human beings who live only to eat are a disgrace. If they work, they will receive heaven's gift naturally. In other words, Hiyoshi put work before hunger.

Whenever Hiyoshi wanted to work, he would stop at a building site and offer his services to the carpenters or laborers; if he saw a person pulling a heavy cart, he would push from behind; if he saw a dirty doorway, he would ask if he could borrow a broom to weep it. Even if he wasn't asked, he would work or make work, and because he did it conscientiously, he was always repaid by people with a bowl of food or a little traveling money. He was not ashamed of his way of life, because he did not humble himself like an animal. He worked for the world, and believed that heaven would give him what he needed.

That morning in Kasugai he had come across a blacksmith's shop that had opened early. The wife had children to take care of, so after helping to clean up the smithy, putting the two cows out to pasture, and going around to the well to fill the water jars, he was rewarded with breakfast and rice balls for the afternoon.

It looks like it's going to be hot again today, he thought, looking up at the morning sky. His meal sustained his life, transient as dew, for another day, but his thoughts were not attuned to the thoughts of others. With the weather like this, Lord Nobunaga was sure to come to the river today. And Otowaka had said he'd be there too.

In the distance he could see the Shonai River. Wet with morning dew, he got up from the grass and went to the riverbank, gazing idly at the beauty of the water.

Every year from spring to fall, Lord Nobunaga does not miss a chance to practice fording the river. But where, I wonder? I should've asked Otowaka. The stones on the riverbank were drying in the sun, which shone brightly on the grass and berries and on Hiyoshi's dirty clothes. Anyway I'll wait here, Hiyoshi said to himself and sat down near  a clump of bushes. Lord Nobunaga… Lord Nobunaga. The mischievous master of the Oda. What kind of man could he be? Like a pasted-on talisman, the man's name would not leave his head, whether he was sleeping or awake.

Hiyoshi wanted to meet him. This was what brought him to the riverbank early that morning. Although Nobunaga had succeeded Oda Nobuhide, would he be able to survive very long, spoiled and violent as he was? Common opinion had it that he was stupid as well as short-tempered.

For years Hiyoshi had believed the gossip, and it made him sad that his home province should be so poor and be ruled by so worthless a lord. But after seeing the true circumstances in other provinces, he began to think differently. No, one didn't really know. A war wasn't won on the day of the battle. Each and every province had its own character, and in each one there was both appearance and reality. Even a province that seemed weak on the surface could have hidden strengths. Conversely, provinces that looked strong—like Mino and Suruga—might be rotten from within.

Surrounded by large, strong provinces, the domains of the Oda and the Tokugawa appeared small and poor. Within these small provinces, however, were concealec strengths that the larger provinces did not have, without which they would not have been able to survive.

If Nobunaga was the fool he was said to be, how had he managed to hold on to Nagoya Castle? Nobunaga was now nineteen. It was three years since his father had died. In those three years, this young, violent, empty-headed general, with neither talent nor intelligence, had not only held on to his inheritance, but had gained a firm grip on this province. How was he able to do this? Some claimed it wasn't the work of Nobunaga himself but of his able retainers, in whose charge a worried father had entrusted his son: Hirate Nakatsukasa, Hayashi Sado, Aoyama Yosaemon, and Naito Katsusuke. The collective power of these men was the pillar of the Oda, and the young lord was nothing more than a figurehead. As long as the previous lord's retainers survived, everything would be fine, but when one or two died and the pillar crumbled, the downfall of the Oda was going to be plain for everyone to see. Among those most eager to see this happen were, of course, Saito Dosan of Mino and Imagawa Yoshimoto of Suruga. No one dissented from this view.

"Hiyaa!"

At the sound of a war cry, Hiyoshi looked around over the grass. Yellow dust rose near the upper reaches of the river. Standing up, he strained his ears. I can't see anything, but there's something going on, he thought excitedly. Is it a battle? He raced through the grass, and after running about a hundred yards, he saw what was happening. The Oda troops he had been waiting for since morning had come to the river and were already carrying out their maneuvers.

Whether euphemistically referred to as "river fishing" or "hawking" or "military swimming drills," for the warlords the sole object of these exercises was military preparedness. Disregard military preparations, and your life would be over very quickly.

Hidden in the tall grass, Hiyoshi let out a sigh. On the other bank of the river, a makeshift camp lay between the embankment and the grassy plain above. Curtains, bearing the Oda family crest, hung between several small rest huts and fluttered in the wind. There were soldiers, but Nobunaga was nowhere to be seen. There was a similar camp on this bank as well. Horses were whinnying and stamping, and the excited voices of the warriors roared from both banks loudly enough to raise waves on the water. A lone riderless horse splashed around crazily in the middle of the river and finally leaped up to the dry land downstream.

They pass this off as swimming practice! Hiyoshi thought, astonished. Popular opinion was, for the most part, wrong. Nobunaga was said to be weak-minded and violent, but if you asked for proof, it seemed that no one had really bothered to check whether or not it was true. Everyone saw Nobunaga leaving the castle during the spring and fall, to go fishing or swimming, and that was all. Seeing it with his own eyes, Hiyoshi finally realized that these outings had nothing to do with a frivolous lord taking a swim in the summer heat. This was no-holds-barred military training.

At first the samurai rode in small groups, clad in the lightweight clothes they might wear on an outing. But at the sound of the conch, and with the drums beating, they formed into regiments that clashed in the middle of the river. The waters roiled, and in the pure white spray it was samurai against samurai, one contingent of foot soldiers against another. The bamboo spears became a whirlwind, but their bearers beat rather than thrust at each other. The spears that missed their mark skimmed the water and threw up rainbows. Seven or eight mounted generals showed their colors, brandishing their spears.

"Daisuke! I'm here!" shouted a young mounted samurai, who stood out from the ranks. He wore armor over a white hemp tunic and carried a gorgeous vermilion sword.  He galloped up next to the horse of Ichikawa Daisuke, the archery and spear master, and without warning struck the man's side with his bamboo spear.

"What insolence!" Yelling out and wresting the spear from his attacker, Daisuke adjsted his grip and thrust back at his opponent's chest. The young warrior was a graceful man. His face flushed, he grabbed Daisuke's spear with one hand and held his vermilion sword in the other and glowered. Unable to resist Daisuke's strength, however, he fell backward off his horse into the river.

"That's Nobunaga!" Hiyoshi yelled out involuntarily. Were there retainers who could do such a horrible thing to their master? Wasn't the servant being even more violent than the master was said to be? Hiyoshi thought so, but from that distance he could not be absolutely sure that the man was Nobunaga. Forgetting himself, Hiyoshi stood on tiptoe.  The mock battle at the ford continued apace. If Nobunaga had been pushed off his horse, his retainers should be rushing over to help him, but no one paid the slightest attention.

Before long, a warrior splashed out onto the opposite bank downstream from the battle. It was the same man who had been knocked off his horse, and he looked a lot like Nobunaga. Raising himself up like a water-soaked rat, he immediately stamped his foot shouting, "I will never be beaten!"

Daisuke caught sight of him and pointed. "The general of the eastern army is over there! Surround him and take him alive!"

Kicking up a spray, foot soldiers made straight for Nobunaga. Using a bamboo spear Nobunaga landed a blow on one soldier's helmet and knocked him down; then he hurled the spear at the next man.

"Don't let them get close!"

A group of his men arrived to screen him from the opposing forces. Nobunaga ran up the embankment, yelling in a sharp voice, "Give me a bow!" Two pages ran from behind the curtain of his hut carrying short bows and, almost pitching over, flew to when he was. "Don't let them cross the river!" While giving orders to his troops, he notched an arrow, let it go with a snap, and rapidly notched another. They were practice arrows without heads, but, shot square in the forehead, several "enemy" soldiers were felled. He shot off so many arrows that it was hard to believe that he alone was shooting. As he fired, his bowstring broke twice. Each time, Nobunaga changed weapons with no delay at all and went on shooting. While he was desperately holding his ground, the upstream de­fense gave in. The western army overran the embankment, surrounded Nobunaga's head­quarters, and let out shouts of victory.

"Lost!" Nobunaga tossed his bow aside, already laughing. He turned, smiling through, gritted teeth, and faced the enemy and their victory song. Daisuke and the master of strategy, Hirata Sammi, dismounted and ran toward Nobunaga.

"My lord is not injured?"

"Nothing could happen to me in the water."

Nobunaga was mortified. He said to Daisuke, "Tomorrow I'll win. Tomorrow you're going to have a hard time of it." He raised his brow slightly as he spoke.

Sammi said, "After we get back to the castle, would you care for me to offer a critique of your strategy today?"

Nobunaga was hardly listening. He had already thrown off his armor and plunged into the river to cool off.

*    *    *

Nobunaga's handsome features and fair complexion suggested that his forebears had been exceptionally goodlooking men and women. Turning to face someone, he would shoot them through with the unwavering light in his eyes. When he eventually became aware of this trait, he would wrap the light in laughter, leaving the onlooker baffled. And not only he, but his twelve brothers and seven sisters also, either in their refinement of manners or in their fine good looks, had the sophistication of aristocrats.

"You may find this annoying, and you may ask, 'What? Again?' But, like a prayer that you must say day and night—even while you eat—you must remember your ancestry. The founder of the Oda clan was a priest of the Tsurugi Shrine. In the distant past, one of your ancestors was a member of the Taira clan, which claimed descent from Emperor Kammu. So remember that the blood of the Imperial House has been transmitted to you. Old man that I am, I cannot say more."

Nobunaga heard this constantly from Hirate Nakatsukasa, one of the four men his faher had appointed as his guardians when he had moved from his birthplace, Furuwatari Castle, to Nagoya. Nakatsukasa was a remarkably loyal retainer, but to Nobunaga he was awkward and tiresome. He would murmur, "Ah, I understand, old man. I understand," and turn away. He would not listen to him, but the old man went on, as if repeating a litany:

"Remember your honored father. To defend Owari, he fought on his northern borders in the morning and faced invasion from the east at night. The days in one month when he could take off his armor and spend time with his children were few and far between. Despite the continuous warfare, he had a deep sense of loyalty to the Throne, and he sent me to the capital to repair the mud walls of the Imperial Palace and gave four housand kan to the Court. Besides that, he spared no effort in constructing the Grand Shrine at Ise. Your father was such a man. And among your ancestors—"

"Old man! That's enough! I don't know how many times I've heard this!" When Nobunaga was displeased, his beautiful earlobes became bright red, but from the time he was a child, that was the extent to which he could show his displeasure. Nakatsukasa understood his disposition well. He also knew it was more efficacious to appeal to his feelings than to try to reason with him. When his ward got restless, he would quickly change tactics.

"Shall we get a bridle?"

"Horseback riding?"

"If you like."

"You ride too, old man."

Riding was his favorite pastime. He was not content with staying on the riding grounds. He would ride three or four leagues from the castle and then gallop back.

At thirteen, Nobunaga had taken part in his first battle, and at fifteen he had lost his father. As he grew older he became more and more arrogant. On the day of his father's funeral Nobunaga was improperly dressed for the formality of the occasion.

As the guests watched in disbelief, Nobunaga walked up to the altar, grabbed a handful of powdered incense, and threw it at his father's mortuary tablet. Then, to everybody's surprise, he returned to the castle.

"What a disgrace! Is this really the heir of the province?"

"A hopelessly empty-headed lord."

"You wouldn't have thought it would come to this."

This was the view of those who had only a superficial understanding of things. But those who considered the situation more deeply shed tears of gloom for the Oda clan.

"His younger brother, Kanjuro, is well mannered, and has acted respectfully from beginning to end," one mourner pointed out. They regretted that the estate had not gone to im. But a monk who sat at the back of the room said softly, "No, no … this is a man with a future. He's frightening." This comment was later reported to the senior retainers, but not one of them took it seriously. Shortly before he died, at forty-six, Nobuhide had arranged Nobunaga's engagement to the daughter of Saito Dosan of Mino, through the good offices of Nakatsukasa. For a number of years Mino and Owari had been enemie so the marriage was a political one. Such arrangements were almost the rule in a countr at war.

Dosan had no trouble seeing through this strategy, and yet he had given his favorite daughter to the heir of the Oda clan, whose reputation for being a fool was well know from the neighboring provinces to the capital. He gave his consent to the match, with his eyes firmly fixed on Owari.

Nobunaga's foolishness, violence, and disgraceful conduct appeared to grow worse. But that was exactly what he wanted others to see. In the Fourth Month of the twenty-second year of Temmon, Nobunaga turned nineteen years old.

Anxious to meet his son-in-law, Saito Dosan proposed holding their first meeting a the Shotokuji Temple in Tonda, on the border between their two provinces. Tonda was an estate of the Ikko Buddhist sect. The temple stood a little apart from the village's seven hundred or so houses.

Leading a large body of men, Nobunaga left Nagoya Castle, crossed the Kiso and Hida rivers, and pushed on to Tonda. About five hundred of his men carried longbows or firearms; another four hundred had crimson spears eighteen feet long; and they were followed by three hundred foot soldiers. They marched in solemn silence. A corps of horsemen in the middle of the procession surrounded Nobunaga. They were prepared for an emergency.

It was early summer. The ears of the barley were a pale yellow. A gentle breeze from the Hida River refreshed the line of men. It was a peaceful noontime, and shrubs drooped over the roughly woven fences. The houses of Tonda were well built and many had rice granaries.

"There they are." Two low-ranking samurai of the Saito clan had been posted at the edge of the village as lookouts. They sped off to report. In the row of zelkova trees that cut through the village, the sparrows twittered peacefully. The samurai knelt in front of a small commoner's hut and said in a low voice, "The procession has been sighted. It will soon be passing by here."

Incongruously, the dark, sooty walls of the dirt-floored hut concealed men with gaudy swords, dressed in formal kimono.

"Good. You two go hide in the thicket in back."

The two samurai were personal attendants to Lord Saito Dosan of Mino, who was leaning against the windowsill in a small room, keeping an eye on what was going on.

There were many stories about Nobunaga. What is he really like? Dosan wondered What kind of man is he? Before meeting him formally, I'd like to get a look at him. This was typical of Dosan's way of thinking, and it was why he was here, spying from a roadside hut.

"The men from Owari are here, my lord." So informed, Dosan grunted, and gave his attention to the road outside the window. Locking the entrance, his retainers pressed their faces against the crevices and holes in the wooden doors. They maintained strict silence.

The voices of the little birds in the row of trees fell quiet, too. Except for the sound of their wings as they suddenly took flight, the silence was pervasive. Even the soft breeze made no noise. The feet of the orderly troop of soldiers approached steadily. The musketeers, carrying their polished firearms, walked ten abreast, in detachments of forty men; the red shafts of the spears looked like a forest as they made their way past the men from Mino. With bated breath, Dosan studied the gait of the soldiers and the arrangement of their ranks. Following the wave of marching feet came the sound of horses' hooves and loud voices. Dosan could not let his eyes stray from the scene.

In the midst of the horsemen was a remarkably fine horse with a glittering muzzle.  Atop the rich saddle, inlaid with mother-of-pearl, sat Nobunaga, holding reins of purple interwoven with white. He was chatting gaily with his retainers.

"What's this?" were the words that slipped slowly from Dosan's mouth. He looked astounded. Nobunaga's appearance dazzled the eye. He had heard that the lord of the Oda went about in bizarre clothing, but this far exceeded anything he had heard.

Nobunaga sat swaying in the saddle of the thoroughbred horse, his hair arranged in a general's topknot tied with pale green braid. He was dressed in a brightly patterned cotton coat with one sleeve removed. Both his long and short swords were inlaid with abalone shell and bound in sacred rice straw, twisted into the shape of a good-luck charm. Hanging from his belt were seven or eight items: a tinder bag, a small gourd, a medicine case, a string-bound folding fan, a small carving of a horse, and several jewels. Beneath his half-length skirt of tiger and leopard skin was a garment made of shiny gold brocade.

Nobunaga turned in the saddle and called out, "Daisuke, is this the place? Is this Tonda?" He shouted so loudly that Dosan heard him clearly from his hiding place.

Daisuke, who was acting as guard, rode up to his master. "Yes, and the Shotokuji temple, where you're to meet your esteemed father-in-law, is right over there. We should be on our best behavior from now on."

"The temple belongs to the Ikko sect, doesn't it? Hm, it's quiet, isn't it. No war here, I suppose." Nobunaga gazed up through tihe zelkova trees, perhaps catching sight of silhouettes of hawks in the blue sky overhead. The swords at his waist clanked softly against each other and against the objects hanging from his belt.

After Nobunaga had gone by, Dosan's retainers fought back the desire to burst out laughing. Their faces showed how much they had struggled not to laugh at the ludicrousness of the display.

"Is that it?" Dosan asked. Then, "Is that the last of the procession?"

"Yes, all of it."

"Did you get a good look at him?"

"From a distance."

"Well, his appearance doesn't run counter to the rumors. His features are good and his physique is passable, but there's something missing up here," Dosan said, raising his finger to his head, smiling with apparent satisfaction.

Several retainers came hurriedly through the back door. "Please hurry, my lord. It's one thing if Nobunaga becomes suspicious, but what if his retainers do, too? Shouldn't we be at the temple first?"

They spilled out of the back door of the house and took a concealed path to the temple. Just as the vanguard of the Owari samurai stopped at the front gate of the Shotokuji, they hurried in through the back gate, acting as though nothing had happened. They changed quickly and went out to the main entrance. The temple gate was filled with people. As all of the men from Mino had been summoned for the formalities, the main temple, the great hall, and the guest's reception room were deserted, left to the wind.

Kasuga Tango, one of Dosan's senior retainers, turned to his seated master and quietly asked how he proposed to conduct the meeting.

Dosan shook his head. "There's no reason for me to go." To his way of thinking, Nobunaga was only his son-in-law.

It would have been fine if that was all there was to it. But Nobunaga was the lord of aprovince, just as Dosan was, and his retainers had assumed that the etiquette would be that of men meeting on an equal footing. Although Dosan was also Nobunaga's father-in-law, wouldn't it be more appropriate to follow the form of a first meeting between two provincial lords? That is what Tango thought, and he asked about it tentatively. Dosai replied that it would not be necessary.

"Well then, how would it be if I went out alone?"

"No. That's not necessary either. It will be sufficient if Hotta Doku greets him."

"If my lord thinks so."

"You will attend the meeting. See that all seven hundred men in the corridor that leads up to the room are lined up in a dignified way."

"They should be there already."

"Keep the real veterans concealed, and have them clear their throats as my son-in-law passes by. Have the archers and musketeers stand in the garden. As for the others, tell them they should look overbearing."

"That goes without saying. There'll never be a better opportunity to show the strength of Mino and to crush the spirits of your son-in-law and his men. We're all ready."

Dosan returned to the problem of the front entrance. "This son-in-law of mine is more of a fool than I thought. Any sort of meal and any sort of etiquette will do. I'll be waiting in the reception room." Dosan looked as though he wanted to yawn, and stretched as he got up to leave.

Tango thought he might have to improve on his orders. He went into the corridor and inspected the guards, then called aside a subordinate and whispered something in his ear.

Nobunaga was coming up the steps of the main entrance. There were more than a hundred Saito retainers, from clan elders down to young samurai still on probation. They knelt shoulder-to-shoulder, and prostrated themselves in greeting.

Nobunaga suddenly stopped dead in his tracks and said, "How about a room to rest in?" He spoke without a trace of reserve, and got a very hushed reaction.

"Yes, my lord!"

All the bowed heads looked up simultaneously. Hotta Doku inched forward and prostrated himself at the feet of the lord of Owari. "This way, please. Please rest here awhile, my lord." He stooped low as he led the way to the right of the great entrance and along a raised corridor. Nobunaga looked to the right, then to the left. "I say, this is a nice temple. Why, the wisteria is in full bloom. What a pleasant smell!" Fanning himself, he entered the room with his attendants. After resting for about an hour, Nobunaga rose from behind a folding screen, saying, "Ho, there! I need someone to show me the way. I suppose my father-in-law wants an interview, does he not? Where is the lord of Mino?"

His hair had been redone, turned down and bound. In place of his half-sleeved gar­ment of leopard and tiger skins, he wore a split skirt and tunic of white silk embroidered with his family crest in gold thread, under a formal sleeveless coat with a paulownia pat­tern on a deep purple background. His short sword was tucked into his sash and he car­ried his long sword in his hand. He had been transformed into the very picture of an elegant young courtier.

The eyes of the retainers from Mino opened wide, and even his own retainers, who were used to seeing him in outlandish outfits, were surprised. Nobunaga strode without hesitation along the corridor on his own. He looked in both directions and said in a loud voice, "I'm not comfortable being accompanied like this. I prefer to meet with my father-in-law alone!"

Doku winked at Kasuga Tango, who had just joined them. Positioned on either side of the main hall, they introduced themselves solemnly: "I am Hotta Doku, senior retainer to Lord Dosan of Saito."

"I am also a senior retainer. My name is Kasuga Tango. You have had a long journey, and I am happy to see that you have arrived without mishap. It is felicitous, indeed, that the day of this meeting should be so splendid."

While the two men were still greeting him, Nobunaga walked briskly down the polished floor of the corridor, whose walls were lined with men. "Ah, this is well carved" he said, looking at the transom. He ignored the warriors as if they were mere grass by the roadside. Arriving at the reception room, he asked Doku and Tango, "Is it in here?"

"Yes, my lord," Doku answered, still breathless from having chased Nobunaga.

He nodded casually and stepped from the corridor into the room proper. Completely at ease, he sat down, leaning back against the pillar at the edge of the room. He looked up, as if to admire the paintings on the fretwork ceiling. His eyes were cool and his fea­tures composed. Even courtiers probably had less well-ordered features. But someone paying attention only to his looks would miss the defiance in his eyes. In one corner of the room, there was a slight rustling as a man got to his feet. Dosan stepped out from the shadows. He sat down in a dignified manner, in a position superior to Nobunaga's.

Nobunaga pretended not to notice. Or rather, he feigned indifference while toying with his fan. Dosan glanced to the side. There was no rule governing how a father-in-law should speak to his son-in-law. He held his own and was silent. The atmosphere was tense. Needles seemed to prick at Dosan's brow. Doku, finding the strain unbearable, drew near Nobunaga's side and bowed his head all the way to the tatami.

"The gentleman seated over there is Lord Saito Dosan. Would you care to greet him, my lord?"

Nobunaga said, "Is that so?" and moved his back from the pillar and straightened up. He bowed once and said, "I am Oda Nobunaga. It's a pleasure to meet you."

With Nobunaga's change of posture and salutation, Dosan's manner softened as well. "I've long hoped that we could meet. I'm happy that I could realize this long-cherished desire today."

"This is something that gladdens my heart, as well. My father-in-law is getting old, but he is making his way through life in good health."

"What are you talking about, getting old? I've just reached sixty this year, but feel at all old. You're still a chick just out of the egg! Ha, ha! The prime of manhood begins at sixty."

"I'm happy to have a father-in-law I can rely on."

"In any case, this is a blessed day. I hope the next time we meet, you will show me the face of a grandchild."

"With pleasure."

"My son-in-law is openhearted! Tango!"

"Yes, my lord."

"Let's eat." Dosan gave a second order with his eyes.

"Certainly." Tango was not sure he had read the meaning in his master's eyes correctly, but the sour look on his face had cleared in the course of the meeting. He took it to mean a changed attitude: the old man would now try to please his son-in-law. Instead of the plain fare he had ordered originally, more elaborate dishes were called for.

Dosan looked satisfied with Tango's arrangements. He let out a sigh of relief.  Fathre- in-law and son-in-law were exchanging toasts. The conversation took an amiable turn.

"Ah, I remember!" Nobunaga blurted out suddenly, as though something had just come to mind. "Lord Dosan—father-in-law—on my way here today, I came across a really odd fellow."

"How might that be?"

"Well, he was a funny old man who looked just like you, and he was peeking out at my procession from the broken window of a commoner's house. Though this is my first meeting with my father-in-law, when I first saw you, well… you looked exactiy like him. Now isn't that strange?" As he laughed, Nobunaga hid his mouth behind his half-opened fan.

Dosan was quiet, as though he had drunk bitter soup. Both Hotta Doku and Tango were sweating profusely. When the meal was over, Nobunaga said, "Well, I’ve overstayed my welcome. I'd like to cross the Hida River and get to tonight's lodging before sunset. I beg your leave."

"You're leaving now?" Dosan stood up with him. "I'm reluctant to see you go, but I’ll go with you that far." He, too, had to get back to his castle before nightfall.

The forest of eighteen-foot spears put their backs to the evening sun and marched off to the east. Compared with them, the spearmen of Mino looked short and lacking in spirit.

"Ah, I don't want to live much longer. The day will come when my children go begging for life from that fool! Yet it can't be helped," Dosan tearfully told his retainers as he jostled along in his palanquin.

* * *

The war drum boomed, and the eerie call of the conch drifted over the fields.  Some of Nobunaga's men were swimming in the Shonai River; others were riding in the fields, or training with bamboo spears. When they heard the conch, they stopped whatever they were doing and lined up in rows in front of the hut, waiting for Nobunaga to mount his horse.

"It's time to go back to the castle."

Nobunaga had swum for more than an hour, sunbathed on the riverbank, then jumped into the river again, frolicking like a river imp. Finally he said, "Let's go back," and walked briskly to his makeshift hut. He took off the white bellyband he wore when swimming, wiped himself dry, and put on hunting clothes and light armor.

"My horse," he ordered impatiently. His commands always put his retainers on edge. They tried to be understanding but were often confused, for their young lord was playful and prone to act in unexpected ways. The counterbalance was Ichikawa Daisuke. When Nobunaga's impetuosity threw his orderlies into confusion, one word from Daisuke and the soldiers and horses were soon lined up like rows of rice seedlings.

A look of satisfaction spread across Nobunaga's face. He turned his men toward Nagoya Castle, and they withdrew from the river, with Nobunaga in the middle of the procession. Today's drill had lasted about four hours. The burning midsummer sun was directly overhead. The soaked horses and troops marched on. Foul-smelling fumes rose from the marshes; green grasshoppers jumped out of the way with shrill cries. Sweat poured from the men's pallid faces. Nobunaga used his elbow to wipe the sweat off his face. Gradually his color returned, along with his wild and capricious nature.

"Who's that funny-looking creature running over there?"

Nobunaga's eyes seemed to be everywhere. Half a dozen soldiers, who had seen the man before Nobunaga, ran through the shoulder-high grass to where Hiyoshi was hiding. Hiyoshi had been waiting since the morning for an opportunity to get close to Nobunaga. He had secretly observed Nobunaga at the river. Earlier he had been run off by the guards, so he had set his mind to finding Nobunaga's route back to the castle, and had crept into the tall grasses by the roadside.

It's now or never! he thought. His body and soul were one, and all he could see was the lord of Owari on horseback. Hiyoshi yelled at the top of his voice, not knowing him­self what he was saying. He knew his life was on the line. Before he was able to get close to his idol and be heard, there was a distinct possibility that he would be killed by the long spears of the guards. But he was not afraid. He would either advance on the tide of his ambition or disappear in the undertow.

Jumping to his feet, he saw Nobunaga, shut his eyes, and dashed toward him.

"I have a request! Please take me into your service! I want to serve you and lay down my life for you!" At least this was what he had meant to say, but he was too excited, and when the guards blocked his way with their spears, his voice broke and what actually came out was a meaningless garble.

He looked poorer than the poorest commoner. His hair was filthy, full of dust and burrs. Sweat and grime streaked his face black and red, and it seemed that only his eyes were alive, but they failed to see the spears that blocked his way. The guards swept his legs from under him with the shafts of their spears, but he somersaulted to within ten paces of Nobunaga's horse and jumped to his feet.

"I have a request, my lord!" he yelled, lunging toward the stirrups of Nobunaga's horse.

"Filthy swine!" Nobunaga thundered.

A soldier behind Hiyoshi grabbed him by the collar and threw him to the groun would have been run through, but Nobunaga shouted, "No!"

The approach of this filthy stranger intrigued him. The reason may have been that sensed the ardent hope burning in Hiyoshi's body.

"Speak up!"

Hearing that voice made Hiyoshi almost forget his pain and the guards. "My father served your father as a foot soldier. His name was Kinoshita Yaemon. I am his son, Hiyoshi. After my father died, I lived with my mother in Nakamura. I hoped to find an opportunity to serve you, and looked for a go-between, but in the end there was no way except direct appeal. I'm staking my life on this. I'm resigned to being struck down and killed here. If you take me into your service, I won't hesitate to lay my life down for you. If you will, please accept the only life I have. In this way, both my father, who is under leaves and grass, and I, who was born in this province, will have realized our true desires. He spoke quickly, half in a trance. But his singleminded passion got through to Nobunaga's heart. More than by his words, Nobunaga was swayed by Hiyoshi's sincerity.

He let out a strained laugh. "What an odd fellow," he said to one of his attendants. Then, turning back to Hiyoshi, "So you'd like to serve me?"

"Yes, my lord."

"What abilities do you have?"

"I have none, my lord."

"You have no abilities, and yet you want me to take you into my service?"

"Other than my willingness to die for you, I don't have any special talents."

His interest piqued, he stared at Hiyoshi, the edges of Nobunaga's mouth forming into a grin. "You have several times addressed me as 'my lord,' although no permission has been granted for you to be my retainer. What business do you have addressing me like that when you are not in my service?"

"As a native of Owari, I have always thought that if I were able to serve anyone, it would have to be you. I guess it slipped out."

Nobunaga nodded with approval and turned to Daisuke. "This man interests me said.

"Indeed." Daisuke put on a forced smile.

"Your wish is granted. I'll take you on. From today you are in my service."

Hiyoshi, choked with tears, could not express his happiness. A good many retainers were surprised, but also thought their lord was running true to form, acting capriciously as ever. As Hiyoshi brazenly entered their ranks, they frowned and said, "Back to the end of line, you. You can hold on to the tail of a packhorse."

"Yes, yes." Hiyoshi willingly took his place at the end of the procession, as happy as he would be in the land of dreams.

As the procession moved on to Nagoya, the roads cleared as though swept with a broom. Men and women prostrated themselves, their heads on the ground, in front of their houses and by the roadside.

Nobunaga did not practice self-restraint even in public. He would clear his throat while speaking to his retainers and laugh at the same time. Saying he was thirsty, he would eat melons while in the saddle and spit out the seeds.

Hiyoshi was walking in the middle of these roads for the first time. He kept an eye on his master's back, thinking, At last, this is the road. This is the way.

Nagoya Castle appeared before them. The water in the moat was turning green. Crossing the Karabashi Bridge, the procession meandered through the outer grounds and disappeared through the castle gate. It was the first time of many that Hiyoshi would cross this bridge and pass through this gate.

*   *   *

It was fall. Looking at the reapers in the rice paddies as he passed, a rather short samurai hurried along on foot toward Nakamura. Arriving at the house of Chikuami, he called out in an uncommonly loud voice, "Mother!"

"Oh, my! Hiyoshi!"

His mother had given birth to yet another child. Sitting among red beans spread out to dry, she cradled the child in her arms, exposing its pale skin to the rays of the sun. Turning around and seeing the transformation in her son, a strong emotion broke across her face. Was she happy or sad? Her eyes filled with tears and her lip quivered.

"It's me, Mother. Is everybody well?"

With a little jump, Hiyoshi sat down on a straw mat next to her. The smell of milk lingered on her breast. She embraced him in the same way as the child she was nursing.

"What's happened?" she asked.

"Nothing. This is my day off. It's the first time I've been outside the castle since I went there."

"Ah, good. Your showing up so suddenly made me think that things had gone wrong again." She heaved a sigh of relief, and for the first time since his arrival, showed him a smiling face. She took a good look at her grown-up son, noting his clean silk clothes, the way his hair was tied, his long and short swords. Tears brimmed from her eyes and rolled down her cheeks.

"Mother, you should be happy. At last I'm one of Lord Nobunaga's retainers. Oh, I'm only in the servants' group, but I really am a samurai in service."

"Good for you. You've done well." She held her tattered sleeves to her face, unable to look up.

Hiyoshi put his arm around her. "Just to please you, this morning I tied my hair up and put on clean clothes. But still better things are to come after this. I'm going to show you what I can do, make you really happy. Mother, I hope you have a long life!"

"When I heard what happened last summer… I never imagined I'd see you like this."

"I suppose you heard from Otowaka."

"Yes, he came and told me you'd caught His Lordship's eye and had been taken on as a servant up at the castle. I was so happy I could have died."

"If such a little thing makes you so happy, what about the future? The first thing I want you to know is that I have been permitted to have a surname."

"And what might that be?"

"Kinoshita, like my father. But my first name has been changed to Tokichiro."

"Kinoshita Tokichiro."

"That's right. It's a good name, don't you think? You'll have to put up with this dilapidated house and these rags for a while longer, but cheer up. You're the mother of Kinoshita Tokichiro!"

"I've never been so happy." She repeated this several times, the tears freshening with each word Tokichiro spoke. He was very pleased to see how happy she was for him.  Who else in the world could be so truly happy for him over such a trivial matter? He even imagined that his years of wandering, hunger, and hardship contributed to the happiness of this moment.

"By the way, how's Otsumi?"

"She's helping with the harvest."

"Is she all right? She's not sick, is she?"

"She's the same as ever," Onaka said, reminded of Otsumi's miserable adolescense.

"When she comes back, please tell her she won't have to suffer forever. Before long, when I become somebody, she'll have a sash of figured satin, a chest of drawers with a gold crest, and everything she needs for her wedding. Ha, ha! You think I'm just rambling on, as usual?"

"Are you leaving already?"

"Service at the castle is strict. So, Mother," he lowered his voice, "it's disrespectful to repeat what people say about His Lordship not being able to rule the province, but the truth is, the Lord Nobunaga seen by the public and the Lord Nobunaga in Nagoya Castle are very different."

"That's probably true."

"It's a sorry situation. He has very few real allies. Both his retainers and his own relatives are for the most part against him. At nineteen he's all alone. If you think the suffering of starving farmers is the most pitiful thing, you're far from correct. If you see the point, you can be more patient. We shouldn't give in just because we're human. We’re on the road to happiness, my master and me."

"That makes me happy, but don't be too hasty. No matter how much you rise in the world, my happiness can't be any greater than it is right now."

"Well, then, look after yourself."

"Won't you stay and talk a little more?"

"I have to get back to my duties."

He silently stood up and placed some money on his mother's straw mat. Then he looked around fondly at the persimmon tree, the chrysanthemums by the fence, and the storage shed in back.

He did not come again that year, but at the end of the year Otowaka visited his mother, bringing her a little money, medicine, and cloth to make a kimono. "He’s still a household servant," he reported. "When he reaches eighteen and his stipend increases a little, if he can get a house in town, he says he'll bring his mother to live with him.  He’s a little crazy, but he's fairly sociable too, and he's well liked. The reckless incident at the Shonai River was like an escape from death. He does have to have the devil's own luck.”

That New Year Otsumi wore new clothes for the first time. "My little brother sent them to me. Tokichiro at the castle!" she told one and all, and wherever she went, she was unable to keep from repeating "my little brother did this" and "my little brother did that."

*  *  *

At times Nobunaga's mood changed; he became quiet and spent the entire day moping. This extraordinary silence and melancholy seemed to be natural attempts to control his extremely quick temper.

"Bring Uzuki!" he suddenly yelled one day, and ran off to the riding grounds. His father, Nobuhide, had spent his whole life in warfare, with virtually no time to relax in the castle. During more than half of each year he campaigned in the west and east. He did manage on most mornings to hold a memorial service for his ancestors, receive the salutions of his retainers, listen to lectures on ancient texts, and practice the martial arts and tend to the government of his province until evening. When the day was over, he would study treatises on military strategy or hold council meetings, or try to be a good father to his family. When Nobunaga succeeded his father, this order came to an end. It was not in his character to follow a strict daily routine. He was impulsive in the extreme, his mind like the clouds of an evening squall, ideas suddenly arising and just as suddenly discarded.  It seemed that his body and spirit were beyond all regulation.

Needless to say, this kept his attendants very much on their toes. That day he had sat down with a book, and later had gone meekly to the Buddhist chapel to offer a prayer to his ancestors. In the quiet of the chapel, his call for his horse was as startling as a thunderbolt. The attendants could not find him where they had heard his voice. They rushed the stables and followed him to the riding grounds. He said nothing, but the look on his face plainly reproached them for their slowness.

Uzuki, his favorite horse, was white. When he was dissatisfied and plied the whip, the old horse reacted languidly. Nobunaga was in the habit of leading Uzuki around by the muzzle, complaining about his slowness. Then he'd say, "Give him some water." Taking a ladle, a groom would open the horse's mouth and pour the water in, and Nobunaga would thrust his hand into the horse's mouth and grab his tongue. Today he said, "Uzuki! You've got an evil tongue, haven't you? That's why your legs are heavy."

"He seems to have a bit of a cold."

"Has age caught up with Uzuki too?"

"He was here at the time of the last lord, so he must be pretty old."

"I imagine Uzuki's only one of many in Nagoya Castle who is getting old and feeble, Ten generations have passed since the days of the first shogun, and the world is given over to ritual and deception. Everything is old and decrepit!"

He was talking half to himself; perhaps he was angry at heaven. Nobunaga jumped into the saddle and took a turn around the riding grounds. He was a born rider. His teacher was Ichikawa Daisuke, but recently he had taken to riding alone.

Suddenly horse and rider were overtaken by a dark bay, galloping at a furious pace.  Left behind, an enraged Nobunaga raced after the other horse, shouting, "Goroza!"

Goroza, a spirited youth of about twenty-four and the eldest son of Hirate Nakatsukasa, was the castle's chief gunner. His full name was Gorozaemon and he had two others, Kemmotsu and Jinzaemon.

Nobunaga's temper rose. He had been beaten! Eating someone's dust! It was beyond endurance! He whipped his own horse furiously. The hooves rang on the earth. Uzuki ran so swiftly that you could hardly see the hooves strike the ground, and his silver tail trailed straight out behind him. He jumped into the lead.

Goroza shouted, "Watch out, my lord, his hooves are going to split!"

"What's the matter? Can't you keep up?" Nobunaga shouted back. Mortified, Goroza struck out in pursuit, digging into the bay's flanks with his stirrups. Nobunaga's horse was known far and wide as "Uzuki of the Oda," even among the clan's enemies. The bay could not compare with him in either value or character. But the bay was young and Goroza's horsemanship was better than Nobunaga's. From a lead of about twenty lengths, the distance shrank to ten, then five, then one, and then to a nose. Nobunaga was trying his hardest not to be passed, but he himself began to run out of breath. Goroza sped past, leaving his master in a cloud of dust. Annoyed, Nobunaga jumped to the ground, looking mortified. "That bay has good legs," he grumbled. There was no way he could admit any fault on his own part. To his attendants it seemed their lord had dismounted instead of going the distance.

"Being beaten by Goroza isn't going to brighten his mood," observed an attendant. Dreading his inevitable ill humor, they ran up to him in confusion. One man reached the dazed Nobunaga ahead of the others and, kneeling before him, offered him a lacquered drinking ladle.

"A drink of water, my lord?" It was Tokichiro, recently elevated to sandal bearer. Although "sandal bearer" did not sound like much, being taken from the ranks of the ser­vants to be a personal attendant was a mark of exceptional favor. Tokichiro had come a long way in a short time, by working hard and immersing himself in his duties.

Still, his master did not see him. He neither looked at him nor grunted so much as a single syllable. He took the ladle without a word, finished it off in one gulp, and handed it back.

"Call Goroza," he ordered.

Goroza was tethering his horse to a willow at the edge of the riding grounds. He responded instantly to the summons, saying, "I was just thinking of going to him." He calmly wiped the sweat off his face, rearranged his collar and smoothed his disordered hair. Goroza had made a resolution.

"My lord," said Goroza, "I'm afraid I was rather rude just now." He knelt and spoke in a decidedly cool manner.

The contours of Nobunaga's face softened. "You gave me a good chase. When did you get such a splendid horse? What do you call him?"

The attendants relaxed.

Goroza looked up with a little smile. "You noticed? He's my pride and joy. A horse trader from the north was on his way to the capital to sell it to a nobleman. The price was high and I didn't have the kind of money he was asking for it, so I had to sell a family heirloom, a tea bowl I was given by my father. The bowl was called Nowake, and that the name I gave the bay."

"Well, well, it's no wonder then that I've seen an excellent horse today. I'd like to have that horse."

"My lord?"

"I'll take it at any price you ask, but let me have it."

"I'm afraid I can't do that."

"Did I hear you correctly?"

"I must refuse."

"Why? You could get yourself another good horse."

"A good horse is as difficult to find as a good friend."

"That's exactly why you should turn him over to me. I'm at the point of wanting a  horse that hasn't been ridden to death."

"I really must refuse. I love that horse, and not just for my own pride and amusement, but because on the battlefield he enables me to do my best in the service of my 1ord, which should be the chief concern of a samurai. My lord expressly desires this horse, but there is absolutely no reason for a samurai to give up a thing so important to him."

Reminded of a samurai's duty to serve his master, even Nobunaga could not flatly demand the horse, but neither was he able to overcome his own selfishness. "Goroza, do you seriously refuse my request?"

"Well, in this case, yes."

"I suspect the bay is above your social position. If you were to become a man like your father, you could ride a horse like Nowake. But while you're still young, it's not fitting for someone of your rank."

"Most respectfully, I must say this. Is it not a waste to have such a fine horse and then ride around the town eating melons and persimmons in the saddle? Wouldn't it be better for Nowake to be ridden by a warrior like me?" He had finally come out with it. The words that had spilled from his mouth did not come so much from concern about the horse as from the anger he experienced every day.

Hirate Nakatsukasa locked the gate and stayed by himself in his mansion for over twenty days. He had served the Oda clan without a rest for over forty years, and had served Nobunaga since the day Nobuhide, on his deathbed, had said, "I entrust him to you," and made him Nobunaga's guardian and chief retainer of the province. One day, toward evening, he looked into the mirror and was surprised at how white hair had become. It had reason to turn white. He was well over sixty, but he had had time to think about his age. He closed the lid on the mirror and called for his steward, Amemiya Kageyu.

"Kageyu, has the messenger left?"

"Yes, I sent him off some time ago."

"They'll probably come, don't you think?"

"I think they'll come together."

"Is the sake ready?"

"Yes, sir. I'll have a meal prepared, too."

It was late winter, but the plum blossoms were still closed. It had been terribly cold that year, and the thick ice on the pond had not melted for even a day. The men he had summoned were his three sons, each of whom had his own residence. It was customary for the eldest son and his younger brothers to live with their father as one large family, but Nakatsukasa had them maintain separate residences. Saying that if he had to worry about his own children and grandchildren he might neglect his duties, he lived alone. He had brought Nobunaga up as if he were his own child, but of late his ward had treated him coldly and seemed to resent him. Nakatsukasa had questioned some of Nobunaga's attendants about the incident at the riding grounds. Ever since then Nakatsukasa had looked embarrassed.

Goroza, having incurred the displeasure of Nobunaga, had stopped going to the castle and kept to himself. Shibata Katsuie and Hayashi Mimasaka, retainers who always sided against Nakatsukasa, saw their chance, and by flattering Nobunaga they were able to deepen the rift between them. Their strength lay in the fact that they were younger, and their power and influence were definitely on the rise.

Twenty days of seclusion had brought home to Nakatsukasa an awareness of his age. Tired now, he no longer had the spirit to fight with these men. He was also aware of his lord's isolation and was worried about the future of the clan. He was making a clear copy of a long document composed the previous day.

It was almost cold enough to freeze the water in the inkstone.

Kageyu entered the room and announced, "Gorozaemon and Kemmotsu are here." Not yet knowing the purpose of the summons, they were sitting by a brazier, waiting.

"I was shocked, it was so unexpected. I was afraid he might have taken sick," said Kemmotsu.

"Yes, well, I suspect he heard what happened. I suppose I'm in for a good scolding."

"If it were that, he would have acted sooner. I think he has something else in mind."

They were grown up now, but they still found their father a bit frightening. They waited anxiously. The third son, Jinzaemon, was on a trip to another province.

"It's cold, isn't it?" their father remarked as he slid the door open. Both brothers no­ticed how white his hair had become, and his thinness.

"Are you all right?"

"Yes, I'm fine. I just wanted to see you. It's my age, I suppose, but there are times when I feel very lonely."

"There's nothing special on your mind, no urgent business?"

"No, no. It's been so long since we had dinner together and talked away the night. Ha, ha! Make yourselves comfortable." He was the same as always. Outside, there was a racketing on the eaves, perhaps hail falling, and the cold seemed to intensify. Being with their father made his sons forget the cold. Nakatsukasa was in such a good mood that Goroza­emon was unable to find an opportunity to apologize for his behavior. After the dishes were cleared away, Nakatsukasa ordered a bowl of the powdered green tea he was so fond of.

Quite abruptly, as though reminded of something by the tea bowl in his hand, he said, "Goroza, I hear you have let the tea bowl, Nowake, which I entrusted to you, fall into another man's hands. Is that correct?"

Goroza responded candidly. "Yes. I know it was a family heirloom, but there was a horse that I wanted, so I sold it to get the horse."

"Is that so? Well, that's good. If you have that attitude, there should be no trouble about your service to His Lordship even after I'm gone." His tone changed sharply. "In selling the tea bowl and buying the horse, your attitude was admirable. But if I heard correctly, you beat Uzuki in a race, and when His Lordship asked for your bay, you refused. Is that correct?"

"That's why he's displeased with me. I'm afraid it's caused you a lot of trouble."

"Hold on a minute."

"Sir?"

"Don't think about me. Why did you refuse? It was niggardly of you." Gorozaemon was at a loss for words. "Ignoble!"

"Do you really see it that way? I feel terrible."

"Then why did you not give Lord Nobunaga what he asked for?"

"I am a samurai resolved to give up my very life if my lord so desires, so why should I be stingy about anything else? But I did not buy the bay for my own amusement. It's so I can serve my lord on the battlefield."

"I understand that."

"If I gave up the horse, the master would probably be pleased. But I cannot overlook his selfishness. He sees a horse that is faster than Uzuki and ignores the feelings of his retainers. Is that right? I am not the only one who says the Oda clan is in dangerous straits. I imagine that you, my father, understand this better than I do. While there are times when he may be a genius, his selfish and indulgent nature, no matter how old he gets, is regrettable, even if it is simply his nature. We retainers are exceedingly nervous about his character. To let him have his way might resemble loyalty, but in fact it is not a good thing to do. For this reason I have purposely been obstinate."

"That was wrong."

"Was it?"

"You may see it as loyalty but in fact it makes his bad disposition worse. From the time he was an infant I held him in my arms, much more often than I did my own chil­dren. I know his disposition. Genius he may be, but he has more than his share of faults, too. That you offended him doesn't even amount to dust."

"That may be so. It's disrespectful to say this, but Kemmotsu, and I, and most of the retainers, regret serving this fool. It's only people like Shibata Katsuie and Hayashi Mimasaka who rejoice in having such a master."

"That's not so. No matter what people say, I can't believe that. All of you must follow His Lordship to the bitter end, just as he is, whether I am alive or not."

"Don't worry about that. I do not plan to waver from my principles even if I am out of favor with my master."

"I can be at peace, then. But I've fast become an old tree. Like grafted branches, you will have to serve in my place."

Upon thinking about it later, Gorozaemon and Kemmotsu realized that there were any number of clues in Nakatsukasa's conversation that night, but they returned to their homes without realizing their father was determined to die.

Hirate Nakatsukasa's suicide was discovered the next morning. He had cut his belly open in splendid fashion. The brothers could discern no trace of regret or bitterness in his dead face. He left no last will or testament to his family—just a letter addressed to Nobunaga. Every word was charged with Nakatsukasa's deep and abiding loyalty to his master.

When he heard about his chief retainer's death, a look of great shock spread across Nobunaga's face. By his death, Nakatsukasa admonished his lord. He had known Nobunaga's natural genius and his faults, and as Nobunaga read through the document; before his eyes filled with tears, his chest was pierced with a pain as sharp as a whiplash.

"Old man! Forgive me!" he sobbed. He had pained Nakatsukasa, who was his retainer, but who was also closer to him than his own father. And with the incident over the horse, he had imposed his will on Nakatsukasa, as usual.

"Call Goroza."

When the chief gunner prostrated himself before him, Nobunaga sat on the floor facing him.

"The message your father left me has pierced my heart. I will never forget it. I have no apology other than that." He was about to prostrate himself in front of Goroza but the youth confusedly took his hands in veneration. Lord and retainer embraced each other in tears.

That year the lord of the Oda built a temple in the castle town, dedicated to his old guardian's salvation. The magistrate asked him, "What name are we to give the temple? As the founder, you'll have to give guidance to the head priest on the selection of a name.”

"The old man would be happier with a name chosen by me." Taking up a brush, he wrote "Seishu Temple." After that, he would often set off suddenly for the temple, although he rarely held memorial services or sat with the priests reading the sutras.

"Old man! Old man!" Walking around the temple, he would mutter to himself and then just as abruptly return to the castle. These excursions appeared to be the whim of a madman. Once, when he was hawking, he suddenly tore flesh off a small bird and threw it into the air, saying "Old man! Take what I've caught!" Another time, while fishing, he splashed his foot in the water and said, "Old man! Become a Buddha!" The violence in his voice and eyes alarmed his attendants.

*  *  *

Nobunaga turned twenty-one in the first year of Koji. In May he found a pretext to make war on Oda Hikogoro, the nominal head of the Oda clan. He attacked his castle in Kiyosu and, after taking it, moved there from Nagoya.

Tokichiro observed his master's progress with satisfaction. The isolated Nobunaga was surrounded by hostile kinsmen—uncles and brothers among them—and the task of clearing them from his path was far more pressing than dealing with other enemies.

"He has to be watched," Hikogoro had warned. Putting pressure on him wherever he could, he planned Nobunaga's destruction. The governor of Kiyosu Castle, Shiba Yoshimune, and his son, Yoshikane, were supporters of  Nobunaga. When Higokoro discovered this, he exclaimed angrily, "What a lesson in ingratitude!" and he ordered the governor’s execution. Yoshikane fled to Nobunaga, who hid him in Nagoya Castle. On that same day Nobunaga led his troops in an attack on Kiyosu Castle, rallying his men with the the battle cry, "To avenge the Provincial Governor!"

To attack the head of the clan, Nobunaga had to have right on his side. But it was also an opportunity to clear away some of the obstacles in his path. He put his uncle, Nobumitsu, in charge of Nagoya Castle, but he soon fell victim to an assassin.

"You go, Sado. You're the only one who can govern Nagoya Castle in my place." When Hayashi Sado took up his appointment, some of Nobunaga's retainers sighed, "He's a fool after all. Just when you think he's shown a spark of talent, he goes and does something stupid, like trusting Hayashi!"

There was good cause to be suspicious of Hayashi Sado. While Nobunaga's father lived, there had been no more loyal retainer. And for that reason, Nobuhide had ap­pointed him and Hirate Nakatsukasa as his son's guardians after his death. But because Nobunaga had shown himself to be spoiled and unmanageable, Hayashi had given up on him. Thus he conspired with Nobunaga's younger brother, Nobuyuki, and his mother, in Suemori Castle, to overthrow Nobunaga.

"Lord Nobunaga must not know of Hayashi's treason," Tokichiro overheard troubled retainers whisper on more than one occasion. "If he did, he wouldn't have made him governor of Nagoya." But Tokichiro himself had no worries for his master. He asked himself how his master would deal with the problem. It seemed that the only ones with happy faces at Kiyosu were Nobunaga and one of his young sandal bearers.

One group among Nobunaga's senior retainers, including Hayashi Sado, his younger brother Mimasaka, and Shibata Katsuie, continued to see their lord as a hopeless fool.

"I'll admit the way Lord Nobunaga handled his first meeting with his father-in-law was different from his usual vacuous behavior. But that's what I call fool's luck. And dur­ing their formal interview, he behaved so disgracefully and shamelessly that even his fa­ther-in-law was appalled. As the saying goes, 'There's no cure for fools.' And there's no excusing his later conduct, no matter how you look at it." Shibata Katsuie and the others had convinced themselves that there was no hope for the future, and their views gradually became public knowledge. When Hayashi Sado became governor of Nagoya, he was often visited by Shibata Katsuie, and the castle soon became the seedbed of a treasonous plot.

"The rain is pleasant, is it not?"

"Yes, I find it adds to the charm of the tea." Sado and Katsuie were sitting face to face in a small teahouse, sheltered by a grove of trees, in the grounds of the castle. The rainy season had passed, but the rain still fell from a cloudy sky, and green plums plopped to the ground.

"It'll probably clear up tomorrow," Sado's brother, Mimasaka, said to himself as he sheltered under the branches of the plum trees. He had gone out to light the garden lantern. After lighting it, he lingered a bit and looked around. Finally, when he returned to the teahouse, he said in a low voice, "Nothing unusual to report. There's nobody around, so we can talk freely." Katsuie nodded.

"Well, let's get down to business. Yesterday I went secretly to Suemori Castle. I was received by Lord Nobunaga's mother and Lord Nobuyuki, and I discussed our plans with them. The decision is yours now."

"What did his mother say?"

"She is of the same opinion, and made no objections. She favors Nobuyuki over Nobunaga no matter what."

"Good. What about Nobuyuki?"

"He said that if Hayashi Sado and Shibata Katsuie rose against Nobunaga, naturally he would join them for the good of the clan."

"You persuaded them, I suppose."

"Well, his mother is involved, and Nobuyuki is weak-willed. If I didn't egg them on, there would be no reason for them to join us."

"We have plenty of justification to overthrow Nobunaga, as long as we have their agreement. We're not the only retainers worried about Nobunaga's foolishness and concerned for the safety of the clan."

"'For Owari and one hundred more years for the Oda clan!' will be our rallying cry, but what about military preparations?"

"We have a good opportunity now. I can move quickly from Nagoya. When the war drum sounds, I'll be ready."

"Good. Well, then—" Katsuie leaned forward conspiratorially.

At that moment something fell noisily to the ground in the garden. It was just a few unripe plums. There was a lull in the rain, but drops of water carried by gusts of wind hit the eaves. Doglike, a human figure crawled out from the space under the floor. The plums had not fallen by themselves a few moments before; the black-garbed man, who had stuck his head out from under the house, had thrown them. When all eyes in turned, the man took advantage of the distraction and disappeared into the wind and darkness.

Ninja were the eyes and ears of the lord of the castle. Anyone who ruled a castle, living within its walls and constantly surrounded by retainers, had to depend on spies.  Nobunaga employed a master ninja. But even his closest retainers did not know the man’s identity.

Nobunaga had three sandal bearers: Matasuke, Ganmaku, and Tokichiro. Though they were servants, they had their own separate quarters and took turns on duty near the garden.

"Ganmaku, what's the matter?"

Tokichiro and Ganmaku were close friends. Ganmaku was lying under the futon, asleep. He loved nothing better than to sleep and did so at every opportunity.

"My stomach hurts," Ganmaku said from under the futon.

Tokichiro tugged at the edge of the bedding. "You're lying. Get up. I just got back from town, and I bought something tasty on the way."

"What?" Ganmaku stuck his head out, but, realizing that he had been tricked, went back under the bedding again.

“Fool! Don't tease a sick man. Get out of here. You're bothering me."

"Please get up. Matasuke's not here, and there's something I have to ask you.”

Ganmaku got out from under the covers reluctantly. "Just when a person's sleeping…”

Cursing, he got up and went to rinse his mouth with water that flowed from a spring in the garden. Tokichiro followed him out.

The cottage was gloomy, but it was hidden in the innermost part of the castle grounds, giving it a commanding view of the castle town, which made the heart feel expansive.

"What is it? What do you want to ask me?"

"It's about last night."

"Last night?"

"You can pretend not to understand, but I know. I think you went to Nagoya."

"Oh, yeah?"

"I think you went to spy in the castle, and listened in on a secret conversation be­tween the governor and Shibata Katsuie."

"Shush, Monkey! Watch what you say!"

"Well, then, tell me the truth. Don't hold back from a friend. I've known it for a long time, but said nothing and watched you. You're Lord Nobunaga's ninja, aren't you?"

"Tokichiro, I'm no match for your eyes. How did you find out?"

"Well, we share the same quarters, don't we? Lord Nobunaga is a very important master to me, too. People like me worry about Lord Nobunaga, though we keep it to our­selves."

"Is that what you wanted to ask me about?"

"Ganmaku, I swear by the gods that I won't tell anyone else."

Ganmaku stared at Tokichiro. "Okay, I'll tell you. But it's daytime and we'll be seen. Wait for the right time."

Later, Ganmaku told him what was going on in the clan. And, having both under­standing and sympathy for his master's predicament, Tokichiro could serve him all the better. But he did not have the slightest misgiving for the future of his young, isolated lord, who was surrounded by such scheming retainers. Nobuhide's retainers were about to desert Nobunaga, and only Tokichiro, who had been with him for a short time, had any confidence in him.

I wonder how my master is going to get out of this one, Tokichiro thought. Still only a servant, he could only look from afar with devotion.

It was toward the end of the month. Nobunaga, who usually went out with only a few retainers, unexpectedly called for a horse and rode out of the castle. It was about three leagues from Kiyosu to Moriyama, and he would always gallop there and return be­fore breakfast. But that day, Nobunaga turned his horse east at the crossroads and headed away from Moriyama.

"My lord!"

"Where is he going now?" Surprised and confused, his five or six mounted attendants chased after him. The foot soldiers and sandal bearers were naturally left behind, strag­gling along the road. Only two of his servants, Ganmaku and Tokichiro, while falling be­hind, ran on desperately, determined not to lose sight of their master's horse.

"By the gods! We're in for trouble!" Tokichiro said. They looked at one another, knowing that they had to keep their wits about them. This was because Nobunaga was riding straight for Nagoya Castle—which Ganmaku had told Tokichiro was the center of the plot to replace Nobunaga with his younger brother!

Nobunaga, unpredictable as ever, spurred his horse toward a place fraught with danger, where no one knew what might happen. There was no more dangerous course of action, and Ganmaku and Tokichiro were frightened that something might happen to their master.

But it was Hayashi Sado, governor of Nagoya Castle, and his younger brother who were the most surprised by the unexpected visit. A panicked retainer ran into the roorr the keep. "My lord! My lord! Come quickly! Lord Nobunaga is here!"

"What? What are you talking about?" Doubting his own ears, he did not make a move to get up. It just was not possible.

"He came here with no more than four or five attendants. They suddenly rode through the main gate. He was laughing out loud about something with his attendanants.”

"Is this true?"

"I swear it! Yes!"

"Lord Nobunaga, here? What does it mean?" Sado was losing his head unnecessarily. The color had drained from his face. "Mimasaka, what do you think he wants?"

"Whatever it is, we'd better go and greet him."

"Yes. Let's hurry!"

As they ran down the main corridor, they could already hear the sound of Nobunaga's vigorous footsteps coming from the entrance. The brothers stepped to the side and threw themselves to the floor.

"Ah! Sado and Mimasaka. Are you both well? I was thinking of riding as far Moriyama, but decided to come to Nagoya for some tea first. All this bowing and scraping is far too serious. Let's forget formality. Quickly, bring me some tea." Saying this as he walked past them, he sat down on the platform in the main room of the castle that knew so well. Then he turned to the retainers who were chasing after him, trying to catch their breath. "It's hot, eh? Really hot," he said, fanning himself through his open collar.

The tea was brought in, then the cakes, and then the cushions—all out of order because everyone was thrown into such confusion by the unexpected visit. The brothers hastily presented themselves and made their obeisance, unable to ignore the confusion of the maids and retainers, and left their master's presence.

"It's noon. He must be hungry from his ride. He'll probably order lunch soon. Go to the kitchens and have them prepare a meal." While Sado gave orders, Mimasaka tugged at his sleeve and whispered, "Katsuie wants to see you."

Hayashi nodded and replied softly, "I'll come soon. Go on ahead."

Shibata Katsuie had come to Nagoya Castle earlier that day. He was about to leave after a secret meeting, but the confusion caused by Nobunaga's sudden arrival made it awkward for him to leave. Trapped, he had crawled, shaking, into a secret room. Both men joined him there and breathed a sigh of relief.

“That was unexpected! What a surprise!" said Sado.

"It's typical of him," Mimasaka replied. "You'd go crazy trying to figure out the rules, You never know what he's going to do next! There's nothing worse than the whims of a fool!"

Glancing toward the room in which Nobunaga was sitting, Shibata Katsuie s

"That's probably why he got the better of that old fox Saito Dosan."

"Maybe so," said Sado.

"Sado," Mimasaka had a grim expression on his face. Looking around, he lowered his voice and said, "Wouldn't it be best to do it now?"

"What do you mean?"

"He has come with only five or six attendants, so isn't this what you might call an opportunity sent by the gods?"

"To kill him?"

"Precisely. While he's eating, we sneak in some good fighters, and when I come out to serve him, I give the signal, and we kill him."

"And if we fail?" Sado asked.

"How can we? We'll put men in the garden and the corridors. We might have a few casualties, but if we attack him with all our might…"

"What do you think, Sado?" Mimasaka asked anxiously.

Hayashi Sado had his eyes cast straight down, under the intense stares of Katsuie and Mimasaka. "Well. This may be the opportunity we've been waiting for."

"Are we agreed?"

Looking each other in the eye, the three men had just drawn up their knees. Just at that moment they heard the sound of energetic footsteps walking along the corridor, and the lacquered door slid open.

"Oh, you're in here. Hayashi! Mimasaka! I drank the tea and ate the cakes. I'm going back to Kiyosu now!"

The men's knees drooped, and the three of them cowered. Suddenly, Nobunaga spot­ted Shibata Katsuie. "Hey! Is that you, Katsuie?" Nobunaga said with a smile over the prostrate form of Katsuie. "When I arrived, I saw a bay that looked just like the one you ride. So it was yours after all?"

"Yes… I happened to come by, but as you can see, I'm in my everyday clothes. So I thought that it would be rude of me to appear before you, my lord, and I stayed back here."

"Very good, that's very funny. Look at me. Look how shabby I am."

"Please forgive me, my lord."

Nobunaga lightly tickled Katsuie's neck with his lacquered fan. "In the relationship between lord and retainer, it's too standoffish to be so concerned with appearances or to be a slave to etiquette! Formality is for the courtiers in the capital. It's good enough for he Oda clan to be country samurai."

"Yes, my lord."

"What's the matter, Katsuie? You're trembling."

"I feel even worse, thinking I may have offended you, my lord."

"Ha, ha, ha, ha! I forgive you. Get up. No, wait, wait. The strings of my leather socks re untied. Katsuie, while you're down there, would you tie them?"

"Of course, my lord."

"Sado."

"My lord?"

"I disturbed you, didn't I?"

"Of course not, my lord."

"It's not just me who might drop in unexpectedly, but also guests from enemy provinces. Be on the alert, you're in charge!"

"I'm always on duty, from morning till night."

"Good. I'm glad to have such reliable retainers. But it's not just for me. If you made a mistake, these men would also lose their heads. Katsuie, have you finished?"

"I've tied them, my lord."

"Thank you."

Nobunaga walked away from the three still-prostrate men, went from the central corridor to the entrance by a circuitous route, and left. Katsuie, Sado, and Mimasaka looked at each other's pale faces, momentarily dazed. But when they came to themselves, they ran frantically after Nobunaga and once again prostrated themselves at the entrance. But Nobunaga could no longer be seen. Only the sound of clattering hooves could be heard on the slope that led to the main gate. The retainers, who were always being left behind kept close to Nobunaga, trying not to lose him again. But of the servants, only Ganmaku and Tokichiro, though they could not keep up, came up behind.

"Ganmaku?"

"Yeah?"

"It went well, didn't it?"

"It did." They hurried along behind him, happy to see the figure of their master in front of them. If something had happened, they had agreed to inform Kiyosu Castle by sending a smoke signal from the fire tower, and kill the local guards if they had to.

Nazuka Castle was a vital point in Nobunaga's defenses, held by one of his kinsmen,Sakuma Daigaku. It was a day in early fall, before dawn, when the men in the castle were awakened by the unexpected arrival of soldiers. They jumped up. Was it the enemy? No the men were their allies.

In the mist, a scout yelled out from the watchtower, "The men of Nagoya are in revolt! Shibata Katsuie has a thousand men, Hayashi Mimasaka over seven hundred!"

Nazuka Castle was shorthanded. Riders rode into the mist to report to Kiyosu. Nobunaga was still asleep. But when he heard the news, he quickly put on his armor, grabbed a spear, and ran out without a single attendant. And then, ahead of Nobunaga stood a single ordinary soldier waiting with a horse by the Karabashi Gate.

"Your horse, my lord," he said, offering the reins to Nobunaga.

Nobunaga's face wore an unusual expression, as though he were surprised that somi one had been faster than he. "Who are you?" he asked.

Removing his helmet, the soldier was about to kneel. Nobunaga was already in the saddle. "That's not necessary. Who are you?"

"Your sandal bearer, Tokichiro."

"Monkey?" Nobunaga was amazed again. Why was his sandal bearer, whose duties were in the garden, the first to appear ready for battle? His equipment was simple, but he did have a breastplate, shin guards, and a helmet. Nobunaga was delighted by Tokichiro’s fighting figure.

"Are you ready to fight?"

"Give me the word to follow you, my lord."

"Good! Come along!"

Nobunaga and Tokichiro had gone two or three hundred yards through the thinning morning mist when they heard the roar of twenty, thirty, then fifty mounted men, fol­lowed by four or five hundred foot soldiers, turning the mist black. The men at Nazuka had fought desperately. Nobunaga, a single horseman, dashed into the enemy ranks.

"Who dares raise his hand against me? Here I am, Sado, Mimasaka, Katsuie! How many men do you have? Why did you rebel against me? Come out and fight, man to man!" The booming of his angry voice silenced the war cries of the rebels. "Traitors! I've come to punish you! Running away is disloyal too!"

Mimasaka was so frightened that he fled. Nobunaga's voice pursued him like thunder. Even for these men, on whom Mimasaka counted, Nobunaga was their natural lord. When Nobunaga in person rode among them and spoke to them, they were incapable of turning their spears against him.

"Wait! Traitor!" Nobunaga caught up with the fleeing Mimasaka and ran him through with his spear. Shaking off the blood, he turned to Mimasaka's men and pro­claimed, "Even though he struck at his lord, he will never become the ruler of a province. Rather than be the tools of traitors and leave a dishonored name to your children's chil­dren, apologize now! Repent!"

When he heard that the left flank of the rebel forces had collapsed and that Mimasaka was dead, Katsuie sought refuge with Nobunaga's mother and brother in Suemori Castle.

Nobunaga's mother cried and trembled when she heard of the defeat of their army; Nobuyuki shuddered. Katsuie, the defeated general of the rebel forces, said, "It would be best if I renounced the world." He shaved his head, took off his armor, and put on the robes of a Buddhist priest. The next day, in the company of Hayashi Sado, and Nobuyuki and his mother, he went to Kiyosu to beg forgiveness for his crimes.

Nobunaga's mother's apology was especially effective. Rehearsed by Sado and Katsuie, she begged him to spare the three men. Contrary to their expectations, Nobunaga was not angry. "I forgive them," he said simply to his mother, and turning to Katsuie, whose back was soaked with sweat, he continued, "Priest, why have you shaved your head? What a confused wretch you are!" He gave a forced smile and then spoke sharply to Hayashi Sado. "You too. This is unbecoming for a man of your age. After Hirate Nakatsukasa died, I relied on you as my righthand man. I regret causing Nakatsukasa's death." Tears came to Nobunaga's eyes and he was silent for a moment. "No, no. It was because of my unworthiness that Nakatsukasa committed suicide and you turned traitor. From now on, I am going to reflect on things more deeply. And you will serve me, giving me your hearts fully. Otherwise there is no point in being a warrior. Should a samurai follow one lord or be a masterless ronin?

Hayashi Sado's eyes were opened. He saw what Nobunaga was really like, and finally understood his natural genius. He firmly pledged his loyalty and withdrew without lifting his head.

But it seemed as though Nobunaga's own brother did not understand this. Nobuyuki had rather a low opinion of Nobunaga's magnanimity and thought, My violent older

brother can't do anything to me because my mother's here.

Blind, and protected by a mother's love, Nobuyuki continued his plotting. Nobunaga deplored this, thinking, I would gladly overlook Nobuyuki's behavior. But because of him, many of my retainers may rebel and err in their duty as samurai. Although he is my brother, he must die for the good of the clan. Finding a pretext, Nobunaga arrested Nobuyuki and ran him through.

Nobody considered Nobunaga a fool any longer. On the contrary, everyone crouched in fear of his intelligence and the keenness of his eye.

"The medicine was a little too effective," Nobunaga occasionally remarked with a sardonic grin. But Nobunaga had made his preparations. It had not been his intention to play the fool to deceive his retainers and relatives. With the death of his father, it had become his responsibility to defend the province from enemies on all sides. He had z this camouflage for safety's sake, even to the point of appearing to be a fool. He had convinced his relatives and retainers in order to deceive his enemies and their many spies.  But all the while, Nobunaga studied human nature and the inner workings of society.  Because he was still young, if he had shown himself to be an able ruler, his enemies would have taken countermeasures.

* * *

The head of the servants, Fujii Mataemon, came running in and called Tokochiro, who was resting inside the hut. "Monkey, come quickly."

"What is it?"

"You've been summoned!"

"Huh?"

"The master suddenly asked about you and ordered me to call you. Have you done anything wrong?"

"Nothing."

"Well, anyway, come quickly," Fujii urged him, and ran off in an unexpected direction. Something had set Nobunaga thinking that day as he inspected the storehpuses, kitchens, and the firewood and charcoal warehouses.

"I've brought him along." Fujii prostrated himself as his lord walked by. Nobunaga stopped.

"Ah, you've brought him?" His eyes stopped on the figure of Tokichiro waiting behind him.

"Monkey, come forward."

"My lord?"

"From today I'm appointing you to the kitchens."

"Thank you very much, my lord."

"The kitchens aren't a place where you can distinguish yourself with a spear , but rather than a glorious place on the battlefield, it is an especially important part of our  defenses. I know I don't have to tell you, but work hard."

His rank and stipend were immediately raised. As a kitchen official, he was no a servant. Being transferred to the kitchens, however, was then considered shameful for a samurai and was thought of as a downward slide in one's fortunes: "He has finally wound up in the kitchens." Kitchen duty was held in contempt by fighting men, as a sort of refuse heap for men of little ability. Even the other household servants and the attendants of the samurai looked down upon an appointment to the kitchen, and to the younger samurai it was a place of no opportunity or prospect for advancement. Mataemon sym­pathized with him and comforted him.

"Monkey, you've been transferred to a duty of little account, and I imagine that you're not satisfied. But since your stipend has been increased, instead shouldn't you consider that you've advanced in the world a bit? As a sandal bearer, though the position is a low one, there are times when you work before the master's horse, and there is some hope of promotion. On the other hand, you might have to give up your life. If you're in the kitchens, you don't have to worry about that. You can't sell the cow and keep the milk too.

Tokichiro nodded and answered, "Yes, yes." But privately he was not in the least bit disappointed. On the contrary, he was very pleased that he had received an unhoped-for promotion from Nobunaga. When he started work in the kitchens, the first things that struck him were the gloom, damp, and filth. The down-at-heel men who prepared the meals, who never saw the sun even at noon, and the old head cook had worked without a break for years in the smell of seaweed broth.

This won't do at all, Tokichiro told himself gloomily. He could not stand to be in depressing places. How about cutting a large window in that wall over there, to let in air and light? he thought. But there was a way of doing things in the kitchen, and since the man in charge was an old-timer, everything was a problem. Tokichiro quietly checked how much of the dried fish was bad, and examined the supplies that the merchants brought in daily. After he was put in charge, the suppliers retained by the castle were soon much happier.

"Somehow, when I'm not shouted at all the time, I can't help but bring in better goods and lower my prices," said one merchant.

"Up against you, Master Kinoshita, a merchant is put to shame. Why, you know the going rate for dried vegetables, dried fish, and grains! You've got a sharp eye with the goods, too. It makes us happy that you're so clever at laying up a stock of goods so cheaply," said another.

Tokichiro laughed and said, "Nonsense, I'm not a merchant, so where's the skill or the lack of it? This is not a matter of my making a profit. It's simply that the goods you supply go to feed my master's men. Life comes from what one eats. So how much, then, does the survival of this castle depend on the food prepared in the kitchen? It's the object of our service to give them the best we can." From time to time he gave tea to his suppliers, and as they relaxed, he would explain things during the conversation.

"You're merchants, so every time you deliver a cartload of goods for the castle, you immediately think how much profit you're going to make. And while it's not likely that you'll lose out, what do you suppose would happen if our castle fell into the hands of an enemy province? Wouldn't long years of billing be lost in both principal and interest? And if a general from another province took the castle, the merchants that came along with him would take over your business. So if you think of the master's clan as the root, we, as the branches, will continue to prosper. Isn't this the way we should think of profit? Therefore, short-term profit on the supplies you bring to the castle is not in your long- term interest."

Tokichiro was also considerate to the old head cook. He asked for the old man's opinions even when matters were clear-cut. He obeyed him, even if it went against his own judgment. But there were those among his colleagues who spread malicious gossip wished to be rid of him.

"He's such a busybody."

"He sticks his nose into everything."

"He's a make-work little monkey."

When someone makes waves, he's bound to attract the resentment of others, so Tokichiro generally treated such gossip with indifference. His scheme for remodeling kitchens was approved by both the head cook and Nobunaga. He had a carpenter open a vent in the ceiling and cut a large window into the wall. The sewage system was also rebuilt following his plans. Morning and evening, the sun shone brightly into the kitchens of Kiyosu Castle, which for decades had been so dark that food was cooked by candlelight even at noon. A refreshing breeze also blew through.

He expected the grumbling:

"Food spoils easily."

"You can see the dust."

Tokichiro ignored these complaints. After that, the place became clean; if people saw waste, they reduced it. A year later, the kitchens had become a bright and airy place with a lively atmosphere, just like his own character.

That winter, Murai Nagato, who had until then been overseer of charcoal and firewood, was relieved of his post, and Tokichiro was appointed to succeed him. Why had Nagato been sacked? And why had he himself been promoted to the post of overseer of charcoal and firewood? Tokichiro considered both of these questions when he received posting from Nobunaga. Aha! Lord Nobunaga wanted to save more on charcoal and firewood. Yes, those were his orders last year, but it seems that Murai Nagato's style of economy did not please him.

His new duties took him all over the large castle compound, to all the places charcoal and firewood were used: in the offices, the rest huts, the side rooms, inside and out, wherever fires were built in the winter in the large hearths cut into the floors. Especially in servants' quarters and the barracks of the young samurai, charcoal was piled high in grates, as evidence of unnecessary expense.

"It's Master Kinoshita! Master Kinoshita's here!"

"Who's this Kinoshita?"

"Master Kinoshita Tokichiro, who's been appointed overseer of charcoal and firewood. He's making the rounds with a grim look on his face."

"Ah, that monkey?"

"Do something with the ashes!"

The young samurai hurriedly covered up the red coals with ashes, put what was black into the coal scuttle, and looked very pleased with themselves.

"Are you all here?" When Tokichiro came in, he squeezed his way in through the group and warmed his own hands over the hearth. "My unworthy self has been commanded to oversee charcoal and firewood supplies. I'd be grateful for your help."

The young samurai glanced at each other nervously. Tokichiro took up the large metal tongs that had been placed in the hearth.

"Isn't it cold this year? Covering up the live coals like this… you can't keep warm by just heating your fingers." He dug up some red coals. "Shouldn't you be more generous with the charcoal? I understand that until now the amount of charcoal to be used in each room daily was fixed, but it's dreary to be economical with heat. Use it fully, please. Come to the storehouse and take as much as you need."

He went to the barracks of the foot soldiers and the attendants of the samurai, encouraging the use of plenty of charcoal and firewood by the people who, until then, had shrunk before the exhortations to economize!

"He's being awfully generous in his position this time, isn't he? Perhaps Master Monkey has let his sudden promotion go to his head. But if we follow him too much, we may get a scolding the like of which we've never had until now."

No matter how liberal he was, the retainers set their own limits.

The expenses for one year's firewood and charcoal at Kiyosu Castle exceeded one thousand bushels of rice. Huge amounts of timber were cut and turned into ashes every year. For the two years of Murai Nagato's tenure, there had been no savings at all. On the contrary, expenses had increased. Worst of all, his calls to economize only depressed and annoyed the retainers. The first thing Tokichiro did was to release the retainers from this oppression. He then went before Nobunaga and made the following proposal: "In the winter, the younger samurai, foot soldiers, and servants spend their days indoors eating, drinking, and idly chatting. Before economizing on charcoal and firewood, I would humbly suggest that Your Lordship take steps to correct these bad habits."

Nobunaga quickly gave orders to his senior retainers. They called together the head of the servants and the commander of the foot soldiers and discussed the peacetime duties of retainers: the repair of armor, lectures, the practice of Zen meditation, and inspection tours around the province. Then, most important, training in firearm and spear techniques, engineering projects in the castle and for the servants, when they had time, the shoeing of horses. The reason? Not to give them leisure. To a military commander, his samurai retainers were as dear as his own children. The bond between lord and retainers, who had pledged themselves absolutely, was as strong as that between blood relatives.

On the day of battle, these were the people who would give up their lives before his very eyes. If he did not hold them dear, or if that affection and benevolence were not felt, there would be no brave soldiers dying for him. Therefore, during peacetime it was very easy for a lord to be too generous—against the day of battle.

Nobunaga had the daily routine strictly enforced, leaving his retainers no leisure time. At the same time, he made the serving women who looked after the housekeeping go through training and even practice being confined in a castle under siege, so that he established a daily regimen of no leisure from morning till night. This, of course, went for himself as well.

When Tokichiro was there, he would cheer up.

"Monkey, how have things been recently?"

"Good! I've seen the effect of your orders, but you have a way to go."

"It's still not enough?"

"There's still much more."

"Is something still lacking?"

"The way things are done in the castle has yet to be introduced among the towns-people."

"Hm. I see." Nobunaga listened to Tokichiro. His retainers always made bitter faes and looked askance at this. There were few examples of someone like Tokichiro, who, in such a short space of time, had risen from the servants' barracks to sitting in his lord’s presence, and even fewer cases of someone going before the lord and speaking his own recommendations. Naturally, they frowned as though this were the same as some outrageous act. Nevertheless, the yearly consumption of charcoal and firewood, which had been over a thousand bushels, was significantly reduced by midwinter.

Since the retainers had no spare time, they no longer idled around the hearth, wasting charcoal. Even when there was some leisure time, because the men were moving their bodies and continually exercising their muscles, fires naturally became unnecessary and fuel was only used in cooking. The fuel formerly used in one month was now enough last for three months.

Nevertheless, Tokichiro was not satisfied that he had carried out his duties to the fullest. The contracts for charcoal and firewood were awarded in the summer for the following year. At the head of a group of castle suppliers, he set out to make the annual survey, which until then had been a mere formality. The officials in charge had never gone beyond asking how many of this kind of oak were on this mountain, and how many of that kind on that mountain. With the suppliers acting as his guides, Tokichiro conscientiously took note of everything he saw. He believed he could understand the conditions on the farms and in the towns, but, lacking experience, he could not even guess how much fuel could be got from a single mountain. And he had to admit that the finer points of buying charcoal and firewood were beyond him.

Like other officials before him, he went through the motions of the survey, mumbling, "Hm, hm. Is that so? I see, I see." Following custom, the day ended with the suppliers inviting the official to a banquet at the house of a local magnate. Much of the time was spent exchanging small talk.

"Thank you for coming out all this way."

"We haven't got very much, but please make yourself at home."

"We hope you'll favor us with your custom in the future."

One after another, they flattered Tokichiro. Naturally, attractive young women served the sake. They were constantly beside him, rinsing his cup, refilling it, and offering him one delicacy after another. He only had to express a wish and it was fulfilled.

“This is good sake," he said. He was in a good mood; there was no reason not to be. The perfume of the serving girls charmed his senses. "They're all beautiful," he said. “Each and every one."

“Does your honor like women?" one of the suppliers asked lightheartedly.

Tokichiro replied very seriously, "I like both women and sake. Everything in the world is good. But if you're not careful, even good things can turn against you."

"Please feel free to enjoy the sake and the young flowers, too."

"I'll do just that. By the way, you seem hesitant to talk business, so I'll break the ice. Would you show me the tree ledger for the mountain we were on today?" They brought it in for his inspection. "Ah, it's very detailed," he observed. "Are there no discrepancies in the number of trees?"

"None whatsoever," they assured him.

"It says here that eight hundred bushels were delivered to the castle. Can that much charcoal and firewood come from such a small mountain?"

"That's because demand was less than the year before. Yes, that's the amount from the mountain we surveyed today."

The next morning, when the merchants presented themselves to pay their respects, they were told that Tokichiro had gone off to the mountain before daybreak. They set off after him. When they caught up with him, he was supervising a group of foot soldiers and local farmers and woodsmen. Each man had a bundle of ropes cut to about a meter in length. They tied one length of rope to every tree. Knowing that they had started out with a given number of ropes, when they finished and did their calculations, they could count the total number of trees. Checking the number of trees against the figures in the ledger, Tokichiro suspected there had been an overcharge of almost one-third.

He seated himself on a tree stump. "Call the suppliers over here," he told one of his men.

The fuel dealers prostrated themselves before him, their hearts racing at the prospect of what was to come. No matter how many surveys of the mountains were conducted, the number of standing trees was not a fact that could be easily determined by an ama­teur, and, in fact, the overseers of fuel supplies had always taken the amount recorded in the ledger at face value—swallowed it whole, so to speak. Now the suppliers were faced with an official who was not going to be taken in.

"Isn't there a large discrepancy between the number in this ledger and the actual number of trees?"

They answered yes, but hesitantly and full of apprehension.

"What do you mean, 'yes’? What's the reason for this? You're forgetting the many years you've reaped His Lordship's patronage. Aren't you being ungrateful, deceitful, and complacent, and isn't your sole interest in making a profit? It seems you've put your lies in writing and you've been greedy."

"Isn't that a bit too strong, your honor?"

"The numbers are different. I'm asking why. Judging from the records, only sixty or seventy bushels out of a hundred ordered—that's only six or seven hundred out of a thousand— are actually delivered to the warehouses."

"No, well, er, with that sort of reasoning—"

"Silence! There's no excuse for men who've been supplying fuel from these moun­tains to have engaged in this kind of huge deception year after year. If I am right, you're guilty of deceiving officials and defrauding the provincial treasury."

"We-we hardly know what to say."

"You could be convicted for what you've done and have all your possessions confiscated. However, former officials have also been guilty of neglect. I'll let it pass just this once… but on the following condition: you must correctly state the number of trees.  The figures you submit in writing had better correspond exactly with the facts. Is that clear?

"Yes, Your Excellency."

"There's one other condition."

"Your Excellency?"

"There is an old saying, 'if you cut one tree, you should plant ten.' From what I have seen on these mountains since yesterday, trees are felled every year, but virtually none are being planted. If this continues, there'll be floods and the paddies and other field at the foot of the mountains will be devastated. The province will be weakened, and when the province declines, you will be the ones to suffer. If you want to make real profits, if you hope for true wealth for your families and desire happiness for your descendants, shouldn't you first make your province strong?"

"Yes," they agreed.

"As a tax and a punishment for your greed, from this time forth, every time you cut down a thousand trees, you are, without fail, to plant five thousand seedlings. This is a strict order. Do you agree?"

"We're very grateful. If you will let us off on those terms, we swear the seedlings will be planted."

"I suppose, then, I should increase the delivery fee by five percent."

Later in the day, he informed the farmers who had helped him that he had ordered the reforestation. How much they would be paid for planting a hundred seedlings was yet to be decided, but he told them the expenses would most likely be borne by the castle. With that, he said, "Well, let's go back now."

Encouraged by Tokichiro's attitude, the suppliers were relieved. As they descended the mountain, they whispered among themselves, "What a shock! With this fellow around, you can't leave a moment unguarded."

"He's smart."

"It's not going to be easy income like before, but we won't lose out, either. We’ll make up for it, slowly but surely."

Once back in the foothills, the suppliers were eager to be on their way, but Tokichiro wanted to repay them for the previous night's entertainment. "We've finished our business. Join me for the evening, relax and enjoy yourselves," he insisted.

At a local inn, he treated them to a banquet, he himself getting pleasantly tipsy.

*   *   *

Tokichiro was happy. All alone, but happy.

"Monkey!" Nobunaga said—he still sometimes called him that—"you've been economical in the kitchen ever since you were put in charge of it. But sticking a man there is a waste. I'm promoting you to the stables."

Along with the new assignment came a stipend of thirty kan and a house in the quarter of the castle town set aside for samurai. This new favor brought a lingering grin to

Tokichiro's face. Almost the first thing he did was visit his former workmate Ganmaku.

"Are you free now?" he said.

"Why?"

"I want to go into town and treat you to some sake.

"Well, I don't know."

"What's the matter?"

"You're a kitchen official now. I'm still nothing but a sandal bearer. You don't want to be seen out drinking with me."

"Don't take such a warped view. If I thought that way, I would never have come to ask you. Being in charge of the kitchen was above my status, but the fact is, I've been ordered to the stables at a stipend of thirty kan."

"Well!"

"I came here because you're a true and loyal servant of His Lordship, even though you're only a sandal bearer. I want you to share this happiness with me."

"This is a matter for congratulations, surely. But, Tokichiro, you're more honest than I am.

"Huh?"

"You're open with me, concealing nothing, while I've kept a good bit hidden from you. To tell the truth, I sometimes do special services, like that time you know about. For these I receive large bonuses directly from the hand of His Lordship. I send the money seretly to my house."

"You have a house?"

"If you go to Tsugemura in Omi, you'll see I have a family and about twenty servants."

"Ah, you do?"

"So it's not an honorable thing for me to be entertained by you. Anyway, if we both rise in the world, one with the other, we'll both treat and be treated."

"I didn't know."

"Our fates lie ahead of us—that's the way I look at it."

"You're right, our fates are still ahead of us."

"Let's commit ourselves to the future."

Tokichiro felt even happier. The world was bright. Nothing before his eyes lay in darkness or shadows.

Tokichiro took pleasure in realizing that his new position involved a mere thirty kan, but this modest amount bespoke recognition of his two years as an official. The annual fuel expenditure had been reduced by more than half, but it was more than the reward hat made him feel good. He had been praised: "You've done good work. A man like you in a place like that is a waste." To be spoken to like this by Nobunaga was a joy he would not forget. Nobunaga was a general, and he knew how to speak to his men. Filled with admiration for his master, Tokichiro's elation was almost more than he could bear. Others night have mistaken him for a halfwit as, alone and grinning, his face now and again showing his dimples, he left the castle and roamed around Kiyosu. He was in a good nood when he was walking around town.

The day his duties changed, he was given five days' leave. He was going to have to

arrange for household goods, a housekeeper, and maybe a servant, although he assumed the house he had received was on a back street, had a nondescript gate, a hedge rather than a wall and no more than five rooms. It was the first time he had been the master of a house. He changed direction to go take a look at it. The neighborhood was inhabited solely by men who worked in the stables. He found the group leader's house and went to pay his respects. He was out, so he spoke with the man's wife.

"Are you still single?" she asked.

He admitted that he was.

"Well, that's a little inconvenient for you," she said. "I have servants here and extra furniture. Why don't you take what you need?"

She is kind, Tokichiro thought as he went out the gate, saying he would probably, one way or another, be relying on her fully. She herself came outside the gate and called to two of her servants.

"This is Master Kinoshita Tokichiro, who's just been given duties in the stables. He'll soon be moving into that vacant house with the stand of paulownia. Show him around, and when you have a moment, clean the place up."

Led by the servants, Tokichiro went off to see his official residence. It was bigger than he had imagined. Standing in front of the gate, he mumbled, "Well, this is a fine house."

On making inquiries, he found the previous tenant had been a man by the name of Komori Shikibu. A while had passed, it seemed, and the house was rather in disrepair, but in his eyes it was nothing less than a mansion.

"That stand of paulownia in back is auspicious, because the Kinoshita family crest has been a paulownia since the time of our ancestors," Hiyoshi said to the servant. He wasn't sure this was true, but it sounded right. He thought he had seen such a crest on his fa­ther's old armor chest or sword scabbard.

In the mellow mood he was in now, he would warm up to those around him, and if there was nothing of overriding importance, no necessity to have cool nerves, he would give in to his elation and his tendency to be talkative. Still, after the words were out of his mouth, he admonished himself for not being more judicious, not because his words came from ill will or fear, but because he himself did not attach any importance to the matter. Beyond that, he assumed it would spawn criticism that Monkey was a braggart. He might admit to himself, It's true; I am a bit of a braggart. Nevertheless, small-hearted, fastidious people who, because of his loquaciousness, harbored misconceptions about him or were prejudiced against him, were never to be his allies during his illustrious career.

Later he was seen in the bustling center of Kiyosu, where he bought furnishings. Then, at a secondhand clothing shop, he saw a coat, meant to be worn over armor, that bore a white paulownia crest. Tokichiro went straight in to ask the price. It was cheap. He quickly paid for it and just as quickly tried it on. It was a little large, but not unbecom­ingly so, so he kept it on as he continued on his way. The blue cotton was thin and rip­pled in the breeze as he walked and some rich-looking material, like gold brocade, was stitched only into the collar. He wondered who the wearer had been, the man who had the paulownia crest dyed in white on the back of the garment.

How I'd like to show this to my mother! he thought joyfully.

Right there, in the prosperous part of town, he was assailed by an almost unbearable

emotion. It went back to the pottery shop in Shinkawa. He was forced to recall what a miserable figure he had made, barefoot, pushing the handcart piled high with pottery past the staring men, the beautiful inhabitants of the town. He stopped by a dry goods store where high-quality woven goods from Kyoto lined the shelves.

"Please deliver this without fail," he admonished, putting down the money for his purchases.

Outside again, he noted it was always like this: after half a day of leisure, his purse was empty.

"Steamed Buns" proclaimed the magnificent sign with mother-of-pearl letters that hung from the roof at a street corner. These buns were a specialty of Kiyosu, in whose crowded shops travelers mingled with the locals.

"Welcome!" said a servant girl in a red apron. "Come in. Will you have some here, or buy some to take home?"

Tokichiro sat down on a stool and said, "Both. First I'll have one to eat here. Then I'd like you to deliver a box—and make it a big one—to my house in Nakamura. Ask the packhorse driver when he'll be making a trip up that way. I'll leave a tip to cover that."

A man with his back to Tokichiro was hard at work, but he seemed to be the owner of the shop. "Many thanks for your patronage, sir," he said.

"You seem to be doing good business. I was just now asking to have some buns sent to my home."

"Certainly, sir."

"It doesn't matter when, but I'll entrust this to you. Would you please put this letter in the box with the buns?" He handed the shopkeeper a letter from his sleeve. On the en­velope was written, "To Mother, Tokichiro."

The shopkeeper took it and asked if it really wasn't urgent.

"No, as I said, it's not. Anytime is all right. Your buns have always been my mother's favorites."

While he was talking, he took a mouthful, and the taste of the bun brought a flood of memories and, very quickly, tears to his eyes. These were the buns his mother loved so much. He recalled the days of his youth, when he had passed by this place, yearning to buy some for her, and craving one for himself so keenly that a hand seemed to be coming out of his throat. In those days he could only push his handcart on with abject patience.

A samurai who had been looking in his direction finished off his plate of buns, stood up, and called, "Isn't it Master Kinoshita?" He had a young girl with him.

Tokichiro bowed deeply and with great courtesy. It was the archer Asano Mataemon. He had been kind to Tokichiro from the time he had been a servant and he was inclined to be especially polite to him. As the shop was far away from the castle grounds, Matae­mon was relaxed and in high spirits.

"You're alone, eh?" he asked.

"Yes."

"Won't you join us? I'm with my daughter."

"Oh, your daughter?" Tokichiro looked toward where, a bench away, a girl of sixteen or seventeen rearranged herself to have her back to him, leaving exposed only the white nape of her neck, in the midst of this boisterous crowd. She was lovely. It wasn't that she

only appeared this way to Tokichiro, who was equipped with a sharply appreciative eye for beauty. Anyone would say the same; she was beautiful, no two ways about it, a woman far above the ordinary.

At Mataemon's beckoning, Tokichiro sat down before the possessor of those bright eyes.

"Nene," said Mataemon. It was a pretty name, which suited her character well. Wise eyes shone serenely in the midst of her finely formed features. "This is Kinoshita Tokichiro. He's recently been promoted from kitchen staff to duties in the stables. You shoul meet him."

"Yes, well…" Nene blushed. "I'm already acquainted with Master Kinoshita."

"Eh? What do you mean, acquainted? When and where did you meet?"

"Master Tokichiro's sent me letters and presents."

Mataemon looked taken aback. "I'm shocked. Did you reply to his letters?"

"I've sent nothing at all in reply."

"That's all well and good, but not to show them to me, your father, is inexcusable!”

"I told my mother each time, and she had the gifts returned, except those for special occasions."

Mataemon looked at his daughter, then at Tokichiro. "As a father, I'm always worried, but I was really careless. I didn't know. I had heard that Monkey was a shrewd man, but never imagined he would be interested in my daughter!"

Tokichiro scratched his head. He was very embarrassed, blushing a deep red. When Mataemon began to laugh, he was relieved, but still flushed. Even though he could not tell how Nene felt about him, he was in love with her.

2 SECOND YEAR OF KOJI1556

Characters and Places

Asano Mataemon, Oda retainer

Nene, Mataemon's daughter

Okoi, Mataemon's wife

Maeda Inuchiyo, Oda Nobunaga's page

Yamabuchi Ukon, Oda retainer

Tokugawa Ieyasu, lord of Mikawa

Sessai, Zen Monk and military

adviser to the Imagawa clan

Imagawa Yoshimoto, lord of Suruga

Imagawa Ujizane, Yoshimoto's eldest son

Yoshiteru, thirteenth Ashikaga shogun

Lord Nagoya, Nobunaga's cousin

Ikeda Shonyu, Oda retainer

and friend of Tokichiro

Takigawa Kazumasu, senior Oda retainer

Sumpu, capital of Suruga

Okazaki, capital of Mikawa

Kyoto, imperial capital of Japan

A Handsome Man

"Okoi!" Mataemon called out as soon as he got home. His wife hurried out to greet him. "Prepare some sake. I've brought home a guest," he said abruptly.

"Well, who is it?"

"A friend of our daughter's."

Tokichiro came in behind him.

"Master Kinoshita?"

"Okoi, you've kept me in the dark until today. This is inexcusable behavior for the wife of a samurai. It seems that Master Kinoshita and Nene have known each other for some time. You knew, so why didn't you tell me?"

"I deserve to be scolded. I'm very sorry."

"That's all well and good, but what kind of father does Tokichiro think I am now?"

"She got letters, but she never hid them from me."

"I should hope not."

"Besides, Nene's a bright girl. As her mother, I believe she's never done wrong. So I didn't think it was worth bothering you with each and every letter she received from the men in this town."

"There you're overestimating our daughter. I really don't understand young people nowadays—young men or young women!" He turned to Tokichiro, who stood scratching his head in embarrassment, blocked from coming in, and he burst out laughing.

Tokichiro was overjoyed to have been invited to his sweetheart's home by her father and his heart was racing.

"Well, don't just stand there!" Mataemon led the way to the guest parlor, which though it was the best room in the house, was nonetheless rather small.

The archers' tenement houses were no more comfortable than Tokichiro's own home.

All the retainers of the Oda, regardless of rank, lived plainly. And in this house, too, the only thing that caught the eye was a suit of armor.

"Where did Nene go?"

"She's in her room." His wife offered Tokichiro some water.

"Why doesn't she come out and greet our guest? When I'm here, she always runs away and hides."

"She's probably changing and combing her hair."

"That won't be necessary. Tell her to come and help with the sake. It'll be just fine to put some plain home cooking in front of Tokichiro."

"Goodness! Don't say such things."

Tokichiro stiffened in embarrassment. With the crusty retainers in the castle he was audacious and pushy, but here he was nothing more than a shy young man.

Nene finally came out to greet him formally. She had put on some light makeup. "We haven't much but please make yourself at home." She then brought out a tray of food and a flask of sake.

Tokichiro answered Mataemon's questions as though in a trance, all the while admiring Nene's figure and demeanor. She has a lovely profile, he thought. He was particularly taken by her unaffected grace, as plain as cotton cloth. She had none of the coquettishness of other women, who were either unpleasantly coy or put on airs. Some might have found her a little on the skinny side, but wrapped within her was the fragrance of wild-flowers on a moonlit night. Tokichiro's keen senses were overcome; he was in ecstasy.

"How about another cup?" Mataemon offered.

"Thanks."

"You did say you liked sake"

"I did."

"Are you all right? You haven't drunk too much, have you?"

"I'll have it bit by bit, thank you." On the edge of his seat, with the lacquered sake flask in front of him, Tokichiro stared fixedly at Nene's face, so white in the flickering lamplight. When her eyes moved suddenly in his direction, he passed his hand over his face and said, confused, "Well, I've had quite a bit this evening." He blushed when he realized that he himself was far more aware of his behavior than Nene was.

Once again he thought that, when the time came, even he would have to get married. And if he had to take a wife, she would have to be beautiful. He wondered whether Nene could stand poverty and hardship and bear him healthy children. In his present circumstances, he was bound to have money problems after setting up a home. And he knew that in the future he would not be satisfied with mere wealth, and that there would be a mountain of troubles waiting for him.

Looking at a woman from the point of view of taking her as a wife, there were naturally considerations such as her virtue and appearance. But it was more important to find a woman who could love his mother, an almost illiterate farmer, and one who could also cheerfully encourage her husband's work from behind the scenes. Besides possessing these two qualities, she must be a woman with the kind of spirit that could endure their poverty. If Nene were such a woman… he thought again and again.

Tokichiro's interest in Nene had not begun that evening. He had long before

considered Mataemon's daughter to be the right woman for him. He had noticed her before knowing who she was, and he had secretly sent her letters and presents. But that night he was sure for the first time.

"Nene, I have a private matter to discuss with Tokichiro, so would you leave us for a little while?" When Mataemon said this, Tokichiro imagined that he was already Mataemon's son-in-law, and he began to blush again.

Nene left the room, and Mataemon sat a little straighten "Kinoshita, I want this to be a frank talk. I know you to be an honest man."

"Please say anything you like." Tokichiro was pleased that Nene's father was treating him with such familiarity, even if this was not going to be the talk that he hoped for. He, too, sat straighter, ready to be of service, no matter what Mataemon asked him.

"What I want to say is… well, Nene's about the right age to be married."

"To be sure." Tokichiro's throat was dry and strangely choked. Even though it would have been enough to nod, he felt that he had to make some kind of comment. He often said things when he did not have to.

"The fact is, I've received a number of offers for Nene that are well above our family’s status," Mataemon continued. "And as her father, I just don't know which one to pick.

"It must be difficult."

"And yet…"

"Yes?"

"Someone who may look right to a father may not be to a young girl's liking."

"I understand that. A woman has only one life to live, and her happiness depends on the man she marries."

"There's a page who is always at our master's side—a young man by the name Maeda Inuchiyo. You must know him."

"Master Maeda?" Tokichiro blinked. The conversation had taken an unexpected turn.

"That's right. Master Inuchiyo is from a good family, and he has repeatedly asked for Nene's hand in marriage."

Tokichiro let out something that sounded more like a sigh than an answer.  A formidable rival had suddenly appeared on the scene. Inuchiyo's handsome face, his clear voice, and the good manners he had been taught as one of Nobunaga's pages all made Tokichiro, who had no confidence in his own looks, envious. After all, he could not stop people from calling him Monkey. So there was nothing more hateful to him than to hear someone called "a handsome man." And Inuchiyo was certainly a handsome man.

"Do you plan to give Nene to him?" Without meaning to, they had somehow gone beyond the point of mere talk.

"What? No," Mataemon said, shaking his head. He brought the cup to his lip though roused from a deep reverie. "As a father, I would be happy to have such a well-mannered gentleman as Inuchiyo for a son-in-law, and I've already accepted. Recently, however, my daughter doesn't bow so meekly to her parents' judgment, though only this matter."

“Do you mean that these engagement talks are not to her liking?"

“She hasn't said so in so many words, but she's never said she approved of them either. Well, I suspect she doesn't like the idea."

"I see."

"You know, these marriage talks really are a bother." As Mataemon talked, a worried look spread across his face.

In the end, it was a question of honor. Mataemon admired Inuchiyo. He considered him to be a young man with a bright future. And when Inuchiyo had asked for Nene as his wife, Mataemon had agreed, and had even rejoiced before asking his daughter. But when he had proudly told her, "I think he'd make a peerless husband," she didn't appear to be happy at all. Instead she had looked upset. Although they were father and daughter, he now understood that there was a big difference of opinion between them when it came to choosing a lifetime partner. As a result, Mataemon did not know what to do. Both as a father and as a samurai, he was ashamed to confront Inuchiyo.

Inuchiyo, on the other hand, pursued the affair openly. He told his friends that he was going to marry Master Asano's daughter, and asked them to intercede for him.

Mataemon explained his predicament to Tokichiro. The day of the engagement was approaching. He had managed to hold him off so far with such excuses as "Her mother's been in poor health lately" and "My wife says this is an unlucky year." But he was running out of excuses and was at his wits' end as to what to do next.

"People say you're a man of great ability. Don't you have any ideas?" Mataemon drained his cup and put it down.

If Tokichiro was drunk, it did not show on his face. Until then he had been enjoying his own idle fantasies, but as he listened to Mataemon's problem, he suddenly became very serious.

I have a tough rival, he thought. Inuchiyo was the "handsome man" that Tokichiro disliked so much, but he was hardly what might be called a model one. Raised in a coun­try at war, he was brave but suffered from a stubborn and self-indulgent streak.

Inuchiyo had fought his first campaign with Nobunaga's army at the age of thirteen, and had been man enough to return with an enemy's head. In a recent battle, when a re­tainer of Nobunaga's brother had rebelled, Inuchiyo had fought savagely in Nobunaga's vanguard. When an enemy warrior shot an arrow into Inuchiyo's right eye, Inuchiyo had leaped from his horse, cut off the man's head, and presented it to Nobunaga. All without removing the arrow.

He was a daring, handsome man, although his right eye was now closed to a narrow slit; it looked as though a single needle had been laid on his beautiful, fair skin. Even No­bunaga could not control Inuchiyo's impetuosity.

"So what should I do about Inuchiyo?" Mataemon asked.

They sat in despair together; even Tokichiro, as resourceful as he normally was, didn't know what to suggest. Finally he said, "Well, don't worry. I'll think of something."

Tokichiro returned to the castle. He had done nothing to further his own cause and had only shared Mataemon's problems. But he considered it an honor that his sweet­heart's father had relied on him and confided in him, even if those troubles became a burden to him.

Tokichiro realized he was deeply in love with Nene.

Is that what love is all about? he asked himself, trying to understand the mysterious workings of his own heart. Saying the word "love" gave him an unpleasant feeling. He

disliked the word, which seemed to be on everyone's lips. Hadn't he given up on love since his youth? Certainly his looks and bearing—the weapons with which he fought against the world—had been derided by the beautiful women he had met. But he, too, was moved by beauty and romance. And he had a deep store of patience that frivolous beauties and aristocrats could never imagine.

Although he had received nothing but contempt, he was not the kind of man who gave up. Someday I will show them, he vowed. The women of the world would fight for the attentions of this ugly little man. This thought was the goad that drove him on. It was this feeling that had formed his outlook on women and love before he even knew it. Tokichiro had nothing but contempt for men who worshiped the beauty of women. He despised those who turned love into a fantasy and a mystery, thinking it the highest good in human life, amusing themselves with their own melancholy.

Nevertheless, he thought, it's all right in Nene's case—even to say that I've fallen in love. Love and hate are matters entirely up to the individual, and when he got used to the idea, Tokichiro compromised too. Just before going to sleep, he shut his eyes and imagined Nene's profile.

Tokichiro was off duty the following day as well. His new house in the paulownia stand, which he had visited the day before, was in need of some repairs, and he had to arrange for furniture. But he lingered inside the castle in order to call on Inuchiyo, who was always at Nobunaga's side. Inuchiyo looked down on Nobunaga's retainers from the raised wooden platform with a gaze more arrogant than his master's. When people like Tokichiro came to petition Nobunaga, Inuchiyo listened with a grin, the little dimples showing at the side of his mouth.

Monkey, again? Inuchiyo did not even have to say it. Somehow his single eye looked right through you. Tokichiro thought he was arrogant and did not mix with him much.

While Tokichiro was talking with the guard at the central gate, someone walked by and said, "Master Tokichiro, are you off duty today?"

Casually looking around, Tokichiro saw that it was Inuchiyo. Running after him, he said, "Master Inuchiyo. There is a delicate matter I would like to speak with you about.”

Inuchiyo gave him his usual superior look. "Is this business or personal?"

"As I said, it's a delicate matter, so it's personal."

"If that's the case, right now is inappropriate. I'm just back from an errand for His Lordship, and I don't have time for a chat. Later." With this flat refusal, he left abruptly.

An unlikable fellow, but he does have some good points, Tokichiro had to admit.  Left alone, he stared vacantly after Inuchiyo. Then he too went off, walking with long strides. He was headed for the castle town. Arriving at his new house, he found a man washing the gate and another man carrying in baggage.

Have I got the wrong house? Tokichiro asked himself.

As he looked around, a man's voice rang out from the kitchen. "Hey! Master Kinoshita. Over here."

"Oh, it's you."

"What do you mean, 'Oh, it's you'? Where have you been? Letting people furnish and

clean your house!" The man was one of his former colleagues in the kitchen. "Well, well.  You've done rather well for yourself in no time at all." Tokichiro went in as if he were a guest in his own house. There was a new lacquered chest of drawers and a shelf. These were all gifts from friends who had heard of his promotion, but who, upon finding that the happy-go-lucky master of the house was out, had cleaned the place, moved in the furniture, and finally gotten around to washing the gate.

"Thank you. You're too kind." Embarrassed, Tokichiro quickly set about to help them with whatever he could do on his own. All that was left was to fill up the sake flasks and put them on the trays.

"Master Kinoshita," said one of the castle suppliers, who felt indebted to him from the time Tokichiro had worked as overseer for charcoal and firewood. Peeking into the kitchen, Tokichiro found a chubby maidservant washing and scrubbing. "This is a girl from our village. You must be busy these days, so why don't you employ her for the time being? Tokichiro took advantage of the offer and said, "I'd also like a manservant and a handyman, so if you know of anyone, I'd be most grateful." Then they sat down in a circle, and the housewarming party began.

It's a good thing I came here today. Imagine if I, the householder, had not shown up.

Tokichiro was ashamed of himself. He had not considered himself to be easygoing, but now he could see that he must be at least a bit. As they drank, the wives of his new colleagues in the neighborhood dropped by to congratulate Tokichiro on his promotion.

"Hey, Master Kinoshita! Master of the house!" one of the visitors called.

"What's up?"

"What do you mean, 'What's up?' Have you gone around to the other houses in the ghborhood to pay your respects?"

"No, not yet."

"What? Not yet? Are you the kind of person who dances and sings, waiting for people to come and pay their respects to you? Well, you'd better put on your best clothes and go on one round right away. You can take care of two problems at once by bowing to each house and telling them that you've moved to the neighborhood and that you've been appointed to the stables."

A few days later he had his help. A man from the same village as the maidservant came asking for work. And he employed another man. Somehow or another he had acquired a small residence and three servants, and was the master of his own house, despite his modest stipend. Now when Tokichiro left home—wearing, of course, his secondhand blue cotton coat with the white paulownia crest on the back—he was seen off by the maid and servants.

That morning, thinking that everything would be perfect if only Nene became his wife, he skirted the outer moat of the castle. As he walked along, Tokichiro failed to see the grinning man coming from the other direction. And although one might have imagined that he was still thinking of Nene, his head was really filled with thoughts of castle siege and defense: This is a moat in name only. It's so shallow that in ten days without rain you could see the bottom. In wartime, if you threw in a thousand sandbags, you could open up an avenue of attack. There isn't very much drinking water in the castle, either. The weak point of this castle, then, is water supply. There isn't enough for a good defense in case of a siege…. As he was mumbling to himself, a giant of a man approached and tapped him on the shoulder.

"Master Monkey. Are you on duty now?"

Tokichiro looked up at the face of the speaker, and in that instant hit upon a solution to his problem.

"No, this is a good time," he answered truthfully.

The man, of course, was Maeda Inuchiyo. That there had been no opportunity to talk since their former meeting, and that he now met him here by chance, outside the castle was a good omen. But before he was able to say anything, he was cut off by Inuchiyo.

"Master Monkey, in the castle you said something about a delicate matter you wanted to talk to me about. Since I'm not on duty, I'll hear you out."

"Well, what I want to say is…" Tokichiro looked around, and brushed the dust off a rock at the edge of the moat. "This is not a matter to chat about standing. Why don't you sit down?"

"What is this all about?"

Tokichiro spoke frankly, and his eagerness and sense of the subject's importance showed in his face. "Master Inuchiyo. Do you love Nene?"

"Nene?"

"Master Asano's daughter."

"Ah, her."

"You love her, I suppose."

"What's it to you?"

"Because if you do, I would like to warn you. It seems that, being ignorant of the situation, you've gone through a go-between and have asked the girl's father for permission to marry her."

"Is there something wrong with that?"

"There is."

"What is that?"

"Well, the fact is that Nene and I have been in love for many years now."

Inuchiyo stared fixedly at Tokichiro, and suddenly his whole body shook with laugh­ter. Tokichiro could see by the man's expression that he was not going to take him seri­ously, and he looked even more serious.

"No, this is not a laughing matter. Nene is not the kind of woman who would betray me and give herself to another man, regardless of the cause."

"Is that so?"

“We've made firm promises to each other."

"Well, if that's the way it is, that's fine with me."

“There is one person, however, with whom it's not so fine, and that is Nene's father. If you don't withdraw your request, Master Mataemon is going to be caught between two sides and will be forced to commit ritual suicide."

"Seppuku?"

"It seems that Master Mataemon had no idea of the agreement between us, so he

ageed to your proposal. But because of the situation I've just explained to you, Nene is refusing to go through with it."

"Well then, whose wife will she be?"

With this challenge, Tokichiro pointed to himself and said, "Mine."

Inuchiyo laughed again, but not as loudly as before. "Put a limit on your jokes, Master Monkey. Have you ever looked in a mirror?"

"Are you calling me a liar?"

"Why should Nene be engaged to someone like you?"

"If it's true, what are you going to do?"

"If it is, I'll congratulate you."

"You mean you wouldn't object if Nene and I got married?"

"Master Monkey…"

"Yes?"

"People are going to laugh."

"There's nothing that can be done to a relationship based on love, even if we are laughed at."

"You're really serious, aren't you?"

"I am. When a woman dislikes the man who is courting her, she parries him cleverly, like a willow in the wind. When that happens, you're better off not thinking of yourself as a fool, or that you've been deceived. That aside, please don't bear a grudge against Master Mataemon if Nene and I do get married. That will just add insult to injury."

"Is this what you wanted to talk to me about?"

"Yes, and I'm very grateful for what you've said. I beg you not to forget the promise you made just now." Tokichiro bowed, but when he raised his head, Inuchiyo was gone.

A few days later, Tokichiro dropped in on Mataemon's house. "Regarding what we talked about the other day," Tokichiro said formally. "I met with Master Inuchiyo and carefully explained your distress to him. He said that if your daughter had no intention of becoming his wife, and if there was already a promise between the two of us, there was really nothing to be done. He seemed to be resigned to the situation." As Tokichiro told his story matter-of-factly, Mataemon's face showed that he didn't know quite what to make of it. Tokichiro continued, "Which is to say that Master Inuchiyo did have some regrets, so it would be unacceptable to him if she were given in marriage to anyone else. If she and I were engaged to be married, he would be disappointed would resign himself. He would take it like a man and congratulate me. Still, he would be highly displeased if you were to give Nene to someone else."

"Hold on, Kinoshita. If I heard you right, Master Inuchiyo says it's all right if Nene marries you, but no one else?"

"That's correct."

"Incredible! Who told you that you could marry Nene? And when?"

"No one, I'm ashamed to say."

"What is this? Did you think that I asked you to lie to Master Inuchiyo?"

"Well…"

"But what kind of nonsense have you told Master Inuchiyo? And to say that you and Nene are engaged is nothing more than a joke. This is outrageous!" Mataemon, who was ordinarily a gentle man, was getting upset. "Because it was you who came up with this, people will think that it's probably a joke. But even as a joke, it's terribly embarrassing for an unmarried girl. Do you find it funny?"

"Of course not." Tokichiro hung his head. "I'm the one who made this mistake. I never meant for it to come to this. I'm sorry."

Mataemon looked disgusted. "I don't want you saying how sorry you are. It was my mistake, opening up to someone I thought had a little more common sense."

"Really, I—"

"Well, go home. What are you waiting for? Having said what you have, you're no longer welcome in this house."

"All right, I'll be discreet until the day the wedding is announced."

"Fool!" Mataemon's store of geniality was finally exhausted. He yelled at Tokichiro "Do you think that someone is going to give Nene to a man like you? She wouldn't give her consent even if I ordered her to."

"Well, that's the issue, isn't it?"

"What do you mean?"

"There's nothing as mysterious as love. Nene probably conceals it in her heart that she won't have anyone else for a husband but me. It's rude of me to say so, but I haven't proposed to you; I've proposed to your daughter. Nene is the one who is hoping that I'd ask her to become my wife."

Mataemon looked at him dumbstruck. This had to be the pushiest man he had ever met! No matter what kind of man he was, maybe Tokichiro would go home if he made a sour face and remained silent and sullen. But Tokichiro sat there without a hint of getting up to leave.

To make matters worse, Tokichiro spoke up coolly, "I'm not lying. I'd like you to ask Nene once what is really in her heart."

Mataemon had had enough. Turning around as though he was unable to take any more, he yelled out to his wife in the next room, "Okoi! Okoi!" Okoi looked anxiously at her husband through the open doorway but didn't get up. "Why don't you call Nene?" he asked her.

"But—"

When she tried to calm him down, Mataemon yelled past his wife: "Nene! Nene!"

Nene, afraid that something had happened, came and knelt behind her mother. Come here!" Mataemon said severely, "Surely, you have not made some promise to Master Kinoshita here without your parents' consent."

This came as an unmistakable shock for Nene. Wide-eyed, she looked back and forth at her father and Tokichiro, who was sitting with his head hung low.

"Well, Nene? Our family honor is at stake. It's also for the sake of your own honor when you do get married. You had better speak up clearly. Surely nothing like that has happened."

Nene was silent for a moment, but finally she spoke clearly and modestly: "It has not Father."

"Nothing, right?" With a look of victory combined with a sigh of relief, Mataemon stuck out his chest.

"But, Father—"

"What?"

"There's something I'd like to say while Mother is here, too."

"Go ahead."

"I have a request. If Master Kinoshita will have an unworthy person like myself as his wife, please give your consent."

"Wha-what?" Mataemon stuttered.

"Yes."

"Have you lost your senses?"

"One doesn't speak lightly of such an important subject. I feel very embarrassed to speak of such things, even to my parents, but this is so important for all of us that I must speak about it openly."

Mataemon let out a groan and stared openmouthed at his daughter.

Extraordinary! Tokichiro silently praised Nene's splendid speech, and his entire body thrilled with excitement. But more than this, he could not understand why this carefree, laffected girl had given him her confidence.

It was evening. Tokichiro was walking along absentmindedly. Having left Mataemon's iuse, he was on his way to his own home in the paulownia grove.

If her parents would give their permission, she would like to become Master Kinoshita's wife, Nene had said. Even though he was putting one foot in front of another, he wass so wrapped up in his happiness that he was barely conscious. Nene had spoken seriously, but he still had some doubts. Does she really love me? If she loves me that much, why didn't she tell me sooner? he wondered. He had secretly sent her letters and gifts, but until now Nene had not sent him a single answer that might be interpreted as favorable. From this he had naturally thought that Nene did not like him. And what about the way had dealt with Inuchiyo and Mataemon? He was just being his normal pushy self. Win or lose, he had persisted in his own hopes without asking himself what Nene really felt.  He should marry her. He had to marry her.

Nevertheless, for her to say in front of her father and mother that she wanted to marry him—and when he himself was present—required a great deal of courage. Her admission astonished Tokichiro more than it surprised her father.

Until Tokichiro left, Mataemon had sat with a sour and disappointed look on his face, without consenting to his daughter's request. Rather, he had sat silently sighing, confused, pitying and disdaining his daughter's frame of mind, saying, "There's no accounting for taste.”

Tokichiro was also uneasy. "I'll come back another day and ask again," he had said as prepared to leave.

Mataemon replied, "I'll try to think about it. I'll think about it." Which was an implicit refusal.

But Tokichiro found some hope in these words. Until then, he had not understood Nene's feelings at all. But if Nene's heart was set, he was confident that he would be able to change Mataemon's mind somehow. "I'll think about it" was not an outright no. So

Tokichiro felt that he had already made Nene his wife.

Tokichiro was still lost in thought as he entered his house and sat down in the main room. He was thinking about his own self-confidence, Nene's feelings, and the right time for their marriage.

"There's a letter for you from Nakamura."

As soon as Tokichiro had sat down, the servant put the letter and a package of millet flour in front of him. A feeling of homesickness told him that the letter was from his mother.

There are no words to express our gratitude for the gifts you always send: the dumplings and the clothes for Otsumi. We only have tears to thank you.

He had written to her several times, telling her about his house, and asking her come and live with him. Although his stipend of thirty kan would not allow him to discharge his filial duties fully, she would not lack food or clothing. He also had several servants, so that her hands, which had become rough from years of work on the soil, would not have to scrub and clean again. He would also find a husband for Otsumi. And he would buy some good sake for his stepfather. He himself enjoyed a drink, and nothing would please him more than if the whole family could live together, talking about the former poverty over their evening meal.

Onaka's letter went on:

Although we would be happy to live with you, I am sure that this would get in the way of your work. Certainly, your mother understands that a samurai's duty is to be ready to die at any time. It is still too early to think of my happiness. When I think about former times and your present position, I thank the gods, the Buddhas, and His Lordship for their favors. Do not worry about me. Rather, work harder. There nothing that will make your mother happier. I have not forgotten what you said at the gate that frosty night, and think of it often.

Tokichiro cried and read the letter over and over. The master of the house was not supposed to let his servants see him cry. Moreover, it was the upbringing of a samurai not to let anyone see his tears. But Tokichiro was not like that. And there were so many tears that the servant felt awkward and fidgety.

"Ah, I was wrong. What she said is perfectly correct. My mother is so smart. It's still not the time to think about myself and my family," he said aloud to himself as he folded the letter. His tears would not stop, and he rubbed his eyes with his sleeve like a small child.

That's right! he realized. There haven't been any wars here for a while, but there's no telling when war might erupt in a castle town. The people who live in Nakamura are safe. No, she's saying that that kind of selfish thinking is wrong to begin with. Service to one’s lord should come first. Raising the letter to his forehead reverently, Tokichiro addresse his mother as though she were in the room with him, "No, I understand what you've said, and I'll abide by it absolutely. When my position is secure, and I have the confidence of my lord and others, I'll visit you again, so please come to live with me then." He then took the package of millet flour and gave it to the servant. "Take this to the kitchen. What are you looking at? Is there something strange about crying when you're supposed to? This millet flour my mother ground at night with her own hands. Give it to the maid-servant. Tell her not to waste it, but to make it into dumplings for me from time to time.  I’ve liked them since I was a child. I guess my mother remembered that."

He completely forgot about Nene, and continued thinking about his mother while he ate his solitary evening meal. What does Mother eat? Even if I sent her money, she'd use it to buy sweets for her child or sake for her husband and eat unseasoned vegetables herself. If my mother does not live a long life, I don't know how I'll carry on.

When he went to bed, he was still lost in thought. How can I get married before my her comes to live with me? It's too soon, much too soon. It would be better to marry Nene later.

The Walls of Kiyosu

Every year in the fall there were violent storms. But other, far more ominous winds were blowing around Owari. From the Saito of Mino to the west, from the Tokugawa of Mikawa to the south, and from Imagawa Yoshimoto of Suruga to the east—all the signs pointed to the growing isolation of Owari.

The storms that year had damaged more than two hundred yards of the outer castle wall. A great many carpenters, plasterers, coolies, and stonemasons came to the castle to take part in the reconstruction. Lumber and masonry were brought in through the Karabashi Gate, and construction materials were piled up here and there so that the pathways in the castle and around the moat were highly congested. The people who passed by every day complained openly about the inconvenience:

"You can't walk anywhere!"

"If they don't finish quickly, the stone walls are going to be in danger when the next storm comes."

But then a sign was clearly posted at the roped-off construction site: "This area is under repair. Unauthorized entry prohibited."

The work was carried out with the semblance of a military operation under the authority of Yamabuchi Ukon, the overseer of building works, so that the people who passed through the area did so in single file, with great deference and constraint.

The construction was nearing its twentieth day, but there was still no sign of progress Certainly it was an inconvenience, but now no one complained. Everyone understood that it was going to take a long time and a good bit of construction to repair two hundred yards of the castle wall.

'Who is that man over there?" Ukon asked one of his subordinates, who turned and looked over to where he was pointing.

"I think it's Master Kinoshita from the stables."

"What? Kinoshita? Ah, yes. He's the one everyone calls Monkey. Next time he passes by, call him over," Ukon ordered.

The subordinate knew that his master was angry because every day, when Tokichiro went to work, he passed the site and never made any salutations. Not only that, but he also walked over the piles of lumber. Of course, there was nothing else to be done where lumber had been put in the paths, but this was to be used for the castle construction, and if anyone was going to step on it, he should have asked the permission of the people in charge.

"He doesn't know his manners," the subordinate said later. "At any rate, he's been promoted from servant to samurai and has just been granted a residence in the castle town. He's new, so it's not that surprising."

"No, there's nothing worse than the pride of an upstart. They're all prone to conceit. Getting his nose put out of joint once would do him some good."

Ukon's subordinate waited eagerly for Tokichiro. He finally appeared in the evening, about the time people were going off duty. He was wearing his blue coat, as he did all year round. As almost all the duties of the men who worked in the stables were outside, it served his needs, but his position was such that he could have been properly dressed if he had wanted. Nevertheless, it seemed that Tokichiro never had money to spend on himself.

"He's coming!" Ukon's men winked at one another. Tokichiro walked by slowly, the paulownia crest showing on his back.

"Wait! Master Kinoshita! Wait!"

"Who, me?" Tokichiro turned around. "What can I do for you?"

The man asked him to wait, and went over to Ukon. The workmen and coolies had been called out and were starting to go home in large groups. Ukon had called the fore­men of the plasterers and carpenters and was discussing die next day's work. But when he heard his subordinate, he stood up. "It's Monkey? You stopped him? Bring him here. If I don't admonish him now, he's going to develop bad habits."

Tokichiro came over without a word of greeting, without a bow. And now he seemed to be saying arrogantly, You stopped me. What do you want?

This made Ukon all the angrier. From the standpoint of status, there was an incomparable difference between the two. Ukon was the son of Yamabuchi Samanosuke, the governor of Narumi Castle, and thus the son of a senior Oda retainer. He was far superior to this man who stood there in an old blue coat.

"What presumption!" Ukon's face was flushed.

"Monkey. Hey! Monkey!" he called, but Tokichiro did not answer. This was not like him at all. Tokichiro was called Monkey by everyone from Nobunaga down to his friends, ind the nickname didn't usually bother him. But today was different.

"Are you deaf, Monkey?"

"That's nonsense!"

"What?"

"Calling someone over and then speaking nonsense to him. What's this about a nonkey?"

"Everyone calls you that, so I did too. I'm often away at Narumi Castle, so I don't remember your name. Is it so bad to call you as others do?"

"Yes, it is. There are people who are permitted to call you in a certain way, and others who aren't."

"Well then, am I one of those without permission?"

"That's right."

"Hold your tongue! It's your insolence that is at issue! Why do you trample over the lumber every morning on the way to your post? And why don't you greet us properly?

"Is that a crime?"

"Don't you have any sense of courtesy? I tell you this because you may yet become a samurai. Proper manners are very important for a warrior. When you pass by here, you look at the construction with a smug expression on your face and mumble complaints to yourself. But a castle construction site is under the same discipline as a battlefield. You insolent fool! If you act this way again I'm not going to let you off so easily. When a sandal bearer rises to the position of samurai, something like this is bound to happen." Ukon laughed and looked around at the foremen and his subordinates, and then, to show off his own exalted position, laughed again and turned his back on Tokichiro.

The foremen, thinking that the matter had been settled, crowded around Ukon and went back to discussing the plans. But Tokichiro, glaring at Ukon's back, made no move to leave.

One of Ukon's subordinates said, "We're through with you, Kinoshita."

"You've been reprimanded. Now keep it in mind," said another.

"Well, go on home," said a third.

They made as if to calm him down and send him on his way, but Tokichiro ignored them. He continued to glare at Ukon's back. As he did this, his youthful pride rose to surface like an unchecked bubble, and he exploded into uncontrollable laughter.

The foremen and Ukon's subordinates were startled and looked up. Even Ukon looked around sternly from his seat and shouted, "What are you laughing at?"

Tokichiro laughed all the more. "I'm laughing because you're ridiculous."

"You impertinent—" Ukon leaped up from his seat in a rage. "Because I forgave this miserable wretch, he's full of himself. This is outrageous! Military rules apply in the workplace just as they do on the battlefield. You wretch! I'm going to cut you down. Come over here!" He put his hand on the hilt of his long sword. His adversary, however, stood as still as though he had swallowed a stick.

Ukon became all the angrier. "Grab him! I'm going to punish him! Hold him so he won't run away!"

Ukon's retainers quickly drew up to Tokichiro's side. But Tokichiro was silent, and looked around at the approaching men as though he were sniffing at them. They had all thought there was something strange about him before, but this was almost eerie, and though they surrounded him, not one of them put a hand on him.

“Master Ukon, you're good at spouting out big words, but not so good at doing other things."

"What! What did you say?"

"Why do you think that construction work on the castle is under battlefield regulations? You yourself have said it, but I'll bet you don't understand what it means at all.

You're not a very good overseer. And you think I'm wrong to laugh at you."

"That is unpardonably abusive language! You miserable wretch! To someone of my rank—"

"Listen!" Tokichiro stuck out his chest and, looking at the faces around him, said, "Are these times of peace or of war? The man who doesn't understand this is a fool. Kiyosu Castle is surrounded by enemies: Imagawa Yoshimoto and Takeda Shingen to the east, Asakura Yoshikage and Saito Yoshitatsu to the north, the Sasaki and the Asai to the west, and the Tokugawa of Mikawa to the south." They were overpowered. His voice was full of self-confidence, and because he was not simply speaking his own private feelings, they all listened raptly, carried away by his voice. "The retainers think these walls are im­pregnable, but if a storm were to blow, they would crumble. It's outrageous negligence that this little bit of construction has taken over twenty days, and is still taking day after tedious day. What would happen if an enemy took advantage of this weak point and stormed the castle one night?

"There are three rules governing castle construction. The first is to build with speed and secrecy. The second is to build with unadorned strength. This means that ornament and beauty are fine, but only in peacetime. The third is constant preparedness, which means to be ready for attack despite the confusion of construction. The most frightening thing about construction is the possibility of creating a breach. The province might fall because of one small breach in a mud wall."

His intensity was overpowering. Ukon was about to say something two or three times, but he was checked by Tokichiro's eloquence, and his lips could only quiver. The foremen, too, gaped, overawed by Tokichiro's speech. Hearing the sense in what he said, no one could interrupt him with either abusive language or force. It was now unclear who was the overseer. When Tokichiro thought that what he was saying had sunk in, he continued.

"So while it's impolite to ask, just how exactly is Master Ukon conducting this enterprise? Where is the speed, the secrecy? Where the preparedness? After almost twenty days, has even one yard of the wall been rebuilt? It takes time to replace the collapsed stones be­neath the mud walls. But to state that castle construction is subject to the same military regulations as a battlefield—this is nothing more than the boast of someone who does not know his true station. If I were a spy from an enemy province, I would see that an at­tack could be made where the wall is weakest. It's folly to think that this won't happen, and to carry on in a leisurely fashion as though you were a retired gentleman building a teahouse!

"It's extremely inconvenient for those of us who work within the castle grounds. Rather than blame those passing through, why not discuss the matter and speed up the progress of the construction? Do you understand? Not just the overseer but you, too, his subordinates and the foremen."

When he had finished, he laughed cheerfully. "Well, excuse me. I've been rude, just speaking what's on my mind, but we all think of this as an important official matter, night and day. Well, it's gotten dark. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'll go home."

While Ukon and his men stood dumbfounded, Tokichiro quickly left the castle grounds.

The following day Tokichiro was in the stables. In his new post, his diligence was second to none.

"Nobody loves horses as much as he does," his colleagues said. To an extent that amazed even the other stable workers, he completely immersed himself in the rounds of the stables and in the grooming of the horses, and his daily life was totally taken up with these animals.

The group leader came to the stables and called to him, "Kinoshita, you've been summoned."

Tokichiro looked out from beneath the belly of Nobunaga's favorite horse, Sangetsu, and asked, "By whom?" Sangetsu had developed an abscess on his leg, so Tokichiro was washing his fetlocks with hot water.

"If it's a summons, it means by Lord Nobunaga. Hurry up." The group leader turn and shouted in the direction of the samurais' room, "Hey! Somebody take Kinoshita place and take Sangetsu to the stable."

"No, no. I'll do it." Tokichiro did not emerge until he had finished washing Sangetsu’s leg. He applied an ointment and bandaged the wound, stroked the animal's neck, and then took it back to its stall himself.

"Where is Lord Nobunaga?"

"In the garden. If you don't hurry, you're going to put His Lordship in a bad mod.”t

Tokichiro went into the office and pulled on his blue coat with the paulownia crest. With Nobunaga in the garden were four or five retainers, including Shibata Katsuie and Maeda Inuchiyo.

Tokichiro, dressed in his blue coat, hurried over, stopped more than twenty yards from Nobunaga, and prostrated himself.

"Monkey, come here," Nobunaga ordered. Inuchiyo immediately put up a stool for him. "Come closer."

"Yes, my lord."

"Monkey? I've heard that you shot out some pretty big words at the construction site on the outer walls last night."

"You've already heard, my lord?"

Nobunaga forced a smile. Tokichiro did not seem to be a person who would have 1et out those big words; he was now bowing before him, looking shamefaced.

"From now on, restrain yourself," Nobunaga reprimanded him. "Yamabuchi Ukon came to me this morning with loud complaints about your bad manners. I calmed hir down because, according to others, there seemed to be a lot of sense in your words."

"I'm extremely sorry."

"Go to the construction site and apologize to Ukon."

"Me, my lord?"

"Of course."

“If it's an order, I'll go and apologize."

“Do you disapprove?"

“I hesitate to say this, but won't it encourage his vice? What I said was correct, and his work,, in terms of service to you, can hardly be called conscientious. Even that little bit of repair has taken close to more than twenty days, and furthermore—"

"Monkey, are you going to spit out those big words even to me? I've heard your lec­ture already."

"I thought I spoke what was obvious, certainly not just big words."

"If that's so, how many days should it take to finish the job?"

"Well…" Tokichiro became a bit more cautious and thoughtful, but he answered promptly, "Well, since the work has already been started, I think I could finish it without difficulty in three days."

"Three days!" Nobunaga exclaimed involuntarily.

Shibata Katsuie looked exasperated and sneered at Nobunaga's credulity in believing Tokichiro. But Inuchiyo had absolutely no doubt that he could do exactly as he claimed.

Nobunaga promoted Tokichiro to the post of overseer of building works on the spot. He would replace Yamabuchi Ukon, and in just three days, he would be expected to re­pair two hundred yards of the castle walls.

He accepted the commission and prepared to withdraw, but Nobunaga asked him again, "Wait. Are you sure you can do it?" From the sympathetic tone of Nobunaga's voice, it was clear that he did not want Tokichiro to be forced to commit seppuku if he was to fail. Tokichiro sat a little straighter and said with certainty, "I will do it without fail."

Nevertheless, Nobunaga asked him to think about it a little more. "Monkey, the mouth is the cause of most disasters. Don't be obstinate over such a trivial matter."

"I'll have the walls ready for your inspection after three days," Tokichiro repeated, and withdrew.

That day he returned home earlier than usual. "Gonzo! Gonzo!" he called out. When his young servant peeked into the back garden at his master's call, there was Tokichiro, stripped naked and sitting cross-legged.

"Do you have an errand for me?"

"Yes, indeed!" he answered heartily. "You have some money on hand, don't you?"

"Money?"

"That's what I said."

"Well…"

"What about that little bit I gave you some time ago for the various household expenses?"

"That's been gone for a long time."

"Well, what about the money for the kitchen expenses?"

"There hasn't been any money for the kitchen for a long time, either. When I told you—it must have been a couple of months ago—you said we would have to do our best, so we've just been getting along as best we could."

"So there's no money?"

"And no reason for there to be any."

"Well then, what am I going to do?"

"Do you need something?"

"I'd like to invite some men over tonight."

"If it's just a matter of sake and food, I'll run around to the shops and buy some on credit."

Tokichiro slapped his thigh. "Gonzo, I'm relying on you." He picked up a fan and fanned himself with wide strokes. An autumn breeze was blowing, and paulownia leaves were falling in profusion; there were also a lot of mosquitoes.

"Who are the guests?"

"The construction foremen. They'll probably all come in a group."

Tokichiro took a bath in the tub in the garden. Just then, someone called from the entrance.

"Who is it?" asked the maidservant.

The guest removed his hat and introduced himself, "Maeda Inuchiyo."

The master of the little residence got out of the tub, put on a summer kimono on the veranda, and peered out toward the front.

"Well, well, Master Inuchiyo. I was wondering who it could be. Come on in and take a seat," Tokichiro called out in a casual manner, putting down some cushions hiself. Inuchiyo sat down.

"I've come rather unexpectedly."

"Is it anything urgent?"

"No, it's not for myself. It's about you."

"Huh?"

"You act as if you don't have a care in the world. You've committed yourself to an possible task, and I can't help feeling worried for you. It was your choice, so you must be confident of success."

"Ah, you mean the castle wall."

"Of course! You spoke out without thinking. Even Lord Nobunaga acted as didn't want you to commit seppuku over this."

"I did say three days, didn't I?"

"Do you have any chance of success?"

"None at all."

"None?"

"Of course not. I know nothing about building walls."

"What are you going to do, then?"

"If I can make the laborers on the construction site work hard, I think I should be able to do this just by using their strength to the full."

Inuchiyo lowered his voice. "Well, that's the question."

They were strange rivals in love. Even though the two men loved the same girl, they had become friends. They did not display friendship in either word or deed but rather in a somewhat uneasy relationship; each knew the other well, and they had entered into a respectful fellowship. Today in particular, it seemed that the nature of Inuchiyo's visit one of genuine concern for Tokichiro.

“Have you thought about Yamabuchi Ukon's feelings?" Inuchiyo asked.

“He probably bears a grudge against me."

“Well, do you know what Ukon is thinking and doing?"

"I do."

Is that so?" Inuchiyo cut his words short. "If you can discern that much, then my mind will be at ease."

Tokichiro stared intently at Inuchiyo. Then he bowed his head in a way that seemed to indicate assent. "You're something, Inuchiyo. Whatever you set your sights on, you set them well, don't you?"

"No, you're the quick one. You're clever to notice about Yamabuchi Ukon, and there's—"

"No, don't say any more." When Tokichiro made as if to put his hand over his mouth, Inuchiyo cheerfully clapped his hands and laughed.

"Let's leave it to the imagination. It's better left unsaid." Of course, he was about to mention Nene.

Gonzo returned, and the sake and food were delivered. Inuchiyo was about to go home, but Tokichiro stopped him.

"The sake’s just come. Drink a cup with me before you go."

"Well, if you insist." Inuchiyo drank freely. However, not one of the guests for whom the sake and food had been provided showed up.

"Well, nobody's coming," Tokichiro said at last. "Gonzo, what do you suppose happened?"

When Tokichiro turned to Gonzo, Inuchiyo said, "Tokichiro, did you invite the con­struction foremen here tonight?"

"That's right. We have to get through some preliminaries. To finish the construction work in three days, we'll have to raise the morale of the men."

"I really overestimated you."

"Why do you say that?"

"I respected you as being twice as quick-witted as other men, but you were the only one who didn't guess that this was going to happen."

Tokichiro stared at the laughing Inuchiyo.

"If you'd think about it, you'd see," Inuchiyo said. "Your opponent is a man of little character. He is, after all, Yamabuchi Ukon, a man with limited abilities, even among those ordinarily judged not to have them. There's no reason for him to be praying that you'll successfully outwit him."

"Of course, but— "

"So is he going to just sit there sucking his thumb? I think not."

“I see.”

"No doubt he's planning some obstruction so that you'll fail. So we might be right in thinking that the foremen you invited here tonight won't be coming. Both the workmen and the foremen are thinking that Yamabuchi Ukon is a good bit more important than you are."

"Right. I understand." Tokichiro hung his head. "If that's so, then this sake is for the two of us to drink. Shouldn't we leave it to the gods and finish it off?"

"That's fine, but your promise to do this in three days starts from tomorrow."

"I say let's drink, come what may."

"If you're decided, sit down and let's drink."

They did not drink much, but talked at length. Inuchiyo was a ready conversational­ist, and Tokichiro somehow became the listener. Unlike Inuchiyo, Tokichiro had no for­mal education. As a boy he had not had a single day to spend, as the sons of samurai did,

devoted to book learning and manners. He did not think of this as unfortunate, but he knew that it was a hindrance to his advancement in the world, and when he thought about those who had more education than he or sat in conversation with them, he was determined to make their knowledge his own. Thus he listened eagerly to the talk of others.

"Ah, I feel a little drunk, Tokichiro. Let's go to sleep. You've got to get up early, and I'm relying on you completely." So saying, Inuchiyo finally pushed his cup away, rose, and went home. When Inuchiyo had gone, Tokichiro lay down on his side, crooked his elbow beneath his head, and went to sleep. He did not notice when the maidservant came slipped a pillow beneath his head.

He had never known a sleepless night. When he slept, there was no distinction between heaven and earth and himself. However, when he awoke, as he did early the next morning, he was himself immediately.

"Gonzo! Gonzo!"

"Yes, yes. Are you already awake, sir?"

"Bring me a horse!"

"Sir?"

"A horse!"

"A horse, sir?"

"Yes! I'll be going to work early today. I won't be returning home either tonight or tomorrow night."

"Unfortunately, we have neither horse nor stable yet."

"Dimwit! Borrow one from somewhere in the neighborhood. I'm not going out on a picnic. I need it for official business. Don't hesitate, go out and bring one back."

"It may be morning, but it's still dark outside."

"If they're sleeping, bang on the gate. If you think it's for my personal use, you’ll probably hesitate. But it's for official business, so it's justifiable."

Gonzo put on a coat and hurried out in confusion. He came back leading a horse. Impatient to leave, the artless new rider galloped into the dawn without even asking where his mount had come from. Tokichiro rode round to six or seven houses of the construction foremen. They received stipends from the clan and belonged to the artisans’ corps. Their houses were all built with a good bit of luxury, had maidservants and concubines, and were extraordinarily stately compared with Tokichiro's own house.

He went from house to house, beating on the gates and calling out to those still sleeping inside.

"Come to the meeting! Come to the meeting! Everyone who's working on the construction, be at the site by the Hour of the Tiger. Anyone who is late will be dismissed.  By order of Lord Nobunaga!"

He gave out this message at one house after another. White steam rose from the sweat-soaked coat of his horse. Just as he reached the castle moat, light began to appear in the eastern sky. He tethered his horse outside the castle gate, took a deep breath, and stood blocking the Karabashi Gate. He held his long sword in his hand, and his eyes were shining brightly.

The foremen who had been awakened while it was still dark all wondered what had

happened, and arrived one by one, leading their men.

"Wait!" Tokichiro ordered, stopping them at the entrance. After they had given their names, the location of their work, and the number of their workers and coolies, he gave them permission to pass. Then he ordered them to wait silently at their work stations. As far as he could see, almost everyone was there. The workmen were standing in order, but murmuring among themselves uneasily.

Tokichiro stood in front of them, still carrying his unsheathed sword. "Quiet!" He spoke as though he were giving a command with the tip of his raised sword. "Fall in!"

The workmen obeyed, but smiled scornfully. It was obvious from the looks in their eyes that they regarded him as a greenhorn, and that they were laughing at the way he stood in front of them with his chest stuck out. To them, his sword waving was nothing more than impertinent posturing, and it did nothing but invite their scorn.

"This is an order for all of you," Tokichiro said in a loud voice, with what seemed to be complete nonchalance. "By the order of Lord Nobunaga, I, as unworthy as I am, will be in charge of the construction from now on. Yamabuchi Ukon was in charge until yesterday, but I will take his place from today." As he spoke, he looked over the ranks of the workmen from right to left. "Until a short while ago, I was in the lowest rank of the ser­vants. But with the favor of His Lordship, I was moved to the kitchens and am now in the stables. I have spent only a short time on the castle grounds, and I know nothing about construction work, but I plan on being second to none when it comes to serving our master. Under an overseer like myself, then, I wonder if any of you will consider working as my subordinates. I can imagine that, among artisans, there is an artisan's temperament. If any of you dislike working under these conditions, please feel free to say so, and I will promptly dismiss you."

Everyone was silent. Even the foremen, who had hidden their scorn, kept their mouths shut.

"No one? Is there no one who is dissatisfied with me as overseer?" he asked again. "If not, then let's get to work immediately. As I've said before, in wartime it is unforgivable for this work to take twenty days. I plan to finish the work by dawn three days from now. I want to say this clearly so that you'll understand and work hard."

The foremen looked at each other. It was natural that this sort of speech would elicit derisive smiles from those men with receding hairlines, who had been doing their jobs since childhood. Tokichiro noticed their reaction but chose to ignore it.

"Foremen of the masons! Head carpenters and plasterers! Come forward!"

They stepped forward, but as they looked up, scorn floated across their faces. Tokichiro suddenly struck the head plasterer with the flat of his long sword.

"What insolence! Do you stand there in front of an overseer with your arms folded? Get out!"

Thinking that he had been cut, the man fell down screaming. The others turned pale, their knees shaking.

Tokichiro went on severely, "I'm going to assign you your posts and duties. Listen carefully." Their attitude had improved. No one looked as if he was only half listening. They were quiet, though not reconciled. And even though they were not really cooperating, they looked scared.

"I've divided the two hundred yards of the wall into fifty sections, giving each group responsibility for four yards. Each group will consist of ten men: three carpenters, two plasterers, and five masons. I'm going to leave those assignments to the foremen. You foremen will each be supervising from four to five groups, so make sure that the workmen are not idle and pay attention to the distribution of men. When any of you have men to spare, move them to a station that is shorthanded. Don't leave an instant for idling."

They nodded but looked restive. They were irritated by this sort of lecture, and unhappy at being assigned to work stations.

"Ah, I almost forgot," Tokichiro said in a louder voice. "Along with the division of ten men for every four yards, I'm assigning a reserve corps of eight coolies and two workmen to each group. When I look at the way the work has been done so far, workers and plasterers are apt to leave the scaffolding and spend the day doing work that is not their own, like carrying lumber. But a worker at the workplace is the same as a soldier on the fied. He should never leave his post. And he shouldn't abandon his tools, whether he be a carpenter, a plasterer, or a mason. That would be the same as a soldier throwing away his sword or spear on the battlefield."

He allocated the posts and divided the men, and then shouted with authority enough to start a battle, "Let's begin!"

Tokichiro also found work for his new subordinates. He ordered one of them to beat a drum. When he commanded the workers to begin, the man beat the drum as though they were marching into battle, one beat to every six paces.

Two beats of the drum sounded a break.

"Rest!" Tokichiro gave the order standing on top of a boulder. If someone didn't rest, he scolded him.

The construction site had been swept clean of the indolence that had prevailed until then; it was replaced by an intensity of activity more common on the battlefield, and by the sweat of excitement. But Tokichiro looked on silently, satisfaction never showing in his face. Not yet. Not like this, he thought.

Taught by their many years of labor, the workmen knew how to use their bodies in crafty ways. They gave the impression of working hard, but in fact they were not wringing out real sweat. Their resistance was such that they took a little comfort by showing obedience on the surface, but not truly working hard. Tokichiro's past life had been drowned in sweat, and he knew the true value and beauty of that sweat.

It is untrue to state that labor is a thing of the body. If labor is not filled with the spirit, there's no difference between the sweat of men and that of cows and horses. Keeping his mouth shut, he thought about the true nature of sweat and work. These men were working in order to eat. Or they were working in order to feed parents, wives, and children. They worked for food or pleasure, and they did not rise above that. Their work was small. And it was mean. Their desires were so limited that pity welled up inside Tokichin and he thought, I was like that too, before. Is it reasonable to expect great works from people with little hope? If he couldn't imbue them with a greater spirit, there was no reason for them to work with greater efficiency.

For Tokichiro, standing silently on the construction site, half a day passed quicky.

Half a day was one-sixth of his allotted time. Looking at the site, however, he could see no signs that they had made any progress since morning. Both above and below the scaffolding, the men seemed to be full of eagerness, but it was nothing more than a sham. On the contrary, they anticipated Tokichiro's complete and overwhelming defeat in three days.

"It's noon. Beat the drum," Tokichiro ordered. The noise and uproar of the construc­tion site came to a halt all at once. When Tokichiro saw that the workers had taken out their lunches, he sheathed his sword and went off.

The afternoon ended with the same atmosphere at the construction site, except that discipline had broken down and indolence was more evident than it had been during the morning. It was no different from the day before, when Yamabuchi Ukon had been in charge. Even worse, the workers and coolies had been ordered to work without rest or sleep from this evening on, and knew that they were not going to be let out of the castie grounds for three days. Thus they begrudged their labor even more and did nothing but think of more ways to cheat as they worked.

"Stop your work! Stop your work! Wash your hands and meet in the square!" It was still light, but the official suddenly made the rounds beating the drum.

"What's going on?" the workers asked each other suspiciously. When they asked the foremen, they were answered with shrugs. They all went to the square where the lumber was kept, to see what this was about. There in the open, sake and food had been put into piles as high as mountains. They were told to be seated, and sat on straw mats, stones, and lumber. Tokichiro sat down in the very center of the workmen and raised his cup.

"Well, this isn't much, but we have three days before us. One day has already passed quickly, but I would like you to work and try the impossible. So, just tonight, please drink and rest to your hearts' content."

His manner was completely different from what it had been that morning, and he himself set an example by drinking a cup. "Come on," he shouted, "drink up. For those of you who don't like sake, there's food and sweets."

The workers were amazed. Suddenly they began to worry about finishing the project by the third day.

But Tokichiro was the first to get tipsy.

"Hey! There's plenty of sake. And it's the castle's, so no matter how much we drink, there'll be more in the storehouse. If we drink, we can dance, sing, or just sleep until the beat of the drum."

The workers soon stopped complaining. Not only were they being released from work, but they were also unexpectedly receiving food and sake. More than that, the over­seer himself was relaxing and mixing with them.

"This gentleman has a sense of humor, doesn't he?"

When the sake began to take effect, they started to tell jokes. But the foremen still looked at Tokichiro coolly.

"Huh! He's being clever, but it's transparent." And this made them even more hostile. With looks on their faces that questioned the propriety of drinking sake in the workplace, they didn't touch their cups.

"Foremen! What's the matter?" Tokichiro got up, cup in hand, and sat down amid

their cold looks. "You aren't drinking anything at all. Maybe you're thinking that foremen have responsibilities much like generals and therefore shouldn't drink, but don't be so anxious. What can be done, can be done. What can't be done, can't be done. If I was wrong, and we can't do this in three days, the matter will be closed with my suicide. Forcing the foreman who had the bitterest look to take a cup, Tokichiro poured from the flask himself. "Well, if we're talking about anxiety, it's not so much this particular construction project or even my own life that concerns me. I worry about the fate of the province in which you all live. But taking over twenty days to do just this little bit of construction—with that kind of spirit, this province is going to perish."

His words were charged with emotion. Suddenly the workers fell quiet. Tokichiro looked up at the evening stars as though in lamentation. "I imagine that all of you seen the rise and fall of provinces, too. And you know the misery of the people who lived in fallen provinces. Well, it's something that cannot be helped. Naturally enough, His Lordship, his generals, and those of us who are the lowest samurai do not forget about the defense of the smallest part of the province, even when we sleep.

"But the rise and fall of a province is not in its castle. It's right here, in you. The people of the province are its stone walls and moats. Working on the construction of this castle, you may feel as though you're plastering the walls of somebody else's house, but you’re wrong. You're building your own defenses. What would happen if this casste was burnt to the ground one day? Surely it would not be the fate of the castle alone. The castle town, too, would be engulfed in flames, and the entire province would be destroyed. It would be like a scene from hell: children ripped away from their parents, old folks looking for their children, young girls screaming in panic, the sick burnt alive. Ah, if the province were to fall, it would really be the end. You all have parents, children, wives, and sick relatives.  You must always, always remember."

Even die foremen stopped sneering and looked serious. They too had property and families, and Tokichiro's words struck home.

"So why is it that we are at peace today? Fundamentally, of course, it's thanks to His Lordship. But you, the people of this province, most certainly protect us with this castle as your very center. No matter how much we samurai fight, if the heart—the people—were to waver…" Tokichiro spoke with tears in his eyes, but he was not pretending. He grieved from the heart and meant every word he spoke.

Those who were struck by the truth of his words were immediately sobered and hushed. Someone wept and blew his nose. It was the carpenters' foreman—the most influential and oldest hand—who had been more openly opposed than anyone to Tokichiro.

Ah, me!…Ah, me!" He dried the tears on his pockmarked cheeks. The others looked on, amazed. When he realized they were all looking at him, he suddenly pushed through his colleagues and threw himself down in front of Tokichiro.

“I have no excuses. I understand my own foolishness and superficiality now. You should tie me up as a lesson, and hurry on with this construction for the sake of the province." Head bowed, the old man trembled as he spoke.

At first, Tokichiro looked at him with blank amazement, but then he nodded slightly and said, "Hm. You were told to do this by Yamabuchi Ukon, right?"

“You knew it all along, Master Kinoshita."

"How could I not know? And Ukon told you and the others not to come to my house when I invited you."

"That's right."

"And he told you to be as slow as possible at the construction site, to delay the work purposely, and to disobey my orders."

"Y-yes."

"It's not surprising that he would do such things. And if all of you made a mess of things, your heads would be lined up too. Well, all right, don't blubber. I'll certainly par­don you for realizing that you've done wrong."

"But there's more. Yamabuchi Ukon told us that if we worked as poorly as possible and slowed things down so that it exceeded three days, he would give us all a load of money. But listening to what you just said, I know that accepting Master Yamabuchi's money and setting ourselves against you was working toward our own destruction. Now I see things clearly. As the leader of the mutineers, I should punished, and the construc­tion completed without delay."

Tokichiro smiled, realizing that with a single turn, a strong enemy had become a sincere ally. Rather than tying the man up, Tokichiro gave him a cup. "There's no guilt in you. At the instant you come to this realization, you become the most loyal citizen of this province. Come on, have a drink. Then, after a rest, let's get to work."

The foreman received the cup with both hands and bowed from the heart. But he did not drink. "Hey! Everybody!" he shouted, suddenly jumping up and lifting his cup high. "We will do exactly as Master Kinoshita says. After one drink, let's get to work. We should be ashamed of ourselves, and it's a wonder that we haven't been punished by heaven. I've devoured rice in vain so far, but from now on I'm going to try to make up for it. I'm going to try to be of real service. I've made up my mind. What about the rest of you?"

As soon as the foreman had finished, the others stood up all at once. Lets go!

"We'll do it!" they all shouted.

"Ah, thank you!" said Tokichiro, raising his cup too. "Well, I'm going to put away this sake for three days. When we've finished the work, we're going to drink it to our hearts' content! Also, I don't know how much money Yamabuchi Ukon said he would give you, but after we've finished this job, I'll reward you as much as I'm able."

"We won't need anything like that." With the pockmarked foreman leading, they all downed their cups in one gulp. And, just like warriors about to fight in the vanguard of a battle, they dashed back to the construction site.

Watching their spirit, Tokichiro experienced heartfelt relief for the first time.

"I've done it!" he blurted out without thinking. He was not going to miss this chance, however; he mixed with the others, working in the mud, laboring like a madman for the next three nights and two days.

*  *  *

"Monkey, Monkey!" There was somebody calling him. He saw that it was Inuchiyo, looking unusually agitated.

"Inuchiyo."

"This is good-bye."

"What?"

"I've been exiled."

"Why?"

"I cut someone down in the castle, and Lord Nobunaga reprimanded me. For the present, I've been made a ronin."

"Who did you cut down?"

"Yamabuchi Ukon. You'll understand my feelings better than anyone else."

"Ah, you were too quick."

"The hot blood of youth! I thought of that right after I cut him down, but it was too late. One's nature comes out unconsciously, even if it's repressed. Well then…"

"Are you going right away?"

"Monkey, take care of Nene. This shows that she and I were not meant for one another. Look after her."

About the same time, a single unruly horse pierced the darkness as it galloped from Kiyosu toward Narumi. Seriously wounded, Yamabuchi Ukon held fast to the saddle. It was eight or nine leagues to Narumi, and Ukon's horse galloped quickly.

It was already dark and no one could see, but had it been daylight, passersby would have seen the blood that fell with the galloping of the horse. Ukon's wound was deep but not fatal. Nevertheless, as he clung to the horse's mane, he wondered which would be faster: the horse's hooves or death.

If I can only make it to Narumi Castle, he thought, remembering that when he had been struck by Maeda Inuchiyo, Inuchiyo had almost flown at him, screaming, "Traitor!

The voice that had brought down this accusation was like a nail driven right into his skull, and would not fade away. Now, between his hazy consciousness and the wind that cut through him on the galloping horse's back, his thoughts wandered. How had Inuchiyo found out? As he considered how this event was going to affect Narumi Castle and the fortunes not only of his father but of his entire clan, panic seized him and he began to bleed heavily.

Narumi Castle was one of the branch castles of the Oda clan. Ukon's father, Samanosuke, had been made Narumi's governor by Nobuhide. Nevertheless, his vision of the world was limited, and what he saw did not portend a great future. When Nobuhide had died, Nobunaga was fifteen, and his reputation was at its lowest. At that time Samanosuke had given up on him and secretly allied himself with Imagawa Yoshimoto.

Nobunaga had discovered Narumi's treason and had attacked the castle twice, but Narumi had not fallen. There was reason for it not to fall; it was supported at the rear by the mighty Imagawa, both militarily and economically. Nobunaga could attack in any way he liked, but his own strength was always spent in vain. Nobunaga understood this and ignored the rebels for a number of years.

But the Imagawa, in their turn, started to doubt Samanosuke's loyalty. Narumi was being  looked upon with suspicion by both sides, and being regarded in this way by the ruler of a large province could only advance one's own demise. So, whatever his real intentions, Samanosuke went to Nobunaga, lamented his many years of misconduct, and

begged to be returned to his former position.

"The branch never outgrows the trunk. It would be good if you understood that. Try to be loyal from now on." With these words, Nobunaga forgave him.

After that, the public works of both father and son were many and impressive, and their former treachery was forgotten. But what had been well hidden was seen by two men: Maeda Inuchiyo and Kinoshita Tokichiro. Ukon had been worried about these two or some time, but then Tokichiro had taken the position of overseer of building works, and the following day Inuchiyo had attacked and wounded Ukon. Now, assuming that he had been discovered, and stumbling from his wounds, he fled from the castle and made his way to Narumi.

It was dawn by the time he saw the gate of the castle. When he was sure he had arrived, he fainted, still clinging to the horse's back. When he came to, he was surrounded by the castle guards, who were attending to his wounds. When his head cleared and he got to his feet, the men around him looked relieved.

The situation was quickly reported to Samanosuke, and several of his attendants rushed out, their eyes wide, asking anxiously:

"Where is the young master?"

"How is he?"

They were dismayed. But the most shocked of all was his father. Seeing his son helped into the garden by the guards, he ran out himself, unable to suppress a father's anguish.

"Are his wounds deep?"

"Father…" Ukon collapsed and said, "I'm sorry…," before he fainted again.

"Inside! Quickly, take him inside!" Samanosuke's face was suffused with regret for the irrevocable. He had been anxious about Ukon's serving Nobunaga from the very beginning, for Samanosuke, not having genuinely returned to the Oda clan, was not yet committed to submission. But when Ukon was opportunely appointed to the post of overseer for the rebuilding of the castle walls, Samanosuke saw it as an opportunity for which he had been waiting for years, and immediately sent off a secret message to the Imagawa:

Now is the time to strike at the Oda clan. If you strike at Kiyosu Castle with five thousand men from the province's eastern border, I will raise my forces and take the offensive. At the same time, my son will throw the castle into confusion from within, by setting it on fire.

Thus he hoped to move Imagawa Yoshimoto to a manly resolution. The Imagawa, lowever, did not move suddenly, despite his request. Regardless of what was said, the Yamabuchi—both father and son—had held long service with the Oda. The Imagawa vere suspicious of their plan. Hearing nothing from either the first or second messengers he had sent, Samanosuke sent a third two days later, with a note saying, "Now is the time.”

Meanwhile, Ukon had been wounded and had fled back alone. And it did not look like a private quarrel. It seemed as though their plot had been discovered. Samanosuke was dismayed, and called his entire clan together for a conference.

"Even though there may not be cooperation from the Imagawa, we can do nothing more than make our military preparations and be ready for the onslaught of the Oda. If word of our rebellion reaches the Imagawa, and they join the fray, then our original hopes of crushing the Oda with a single blow may yet be realized."

Nobunaga had little to say after exiling Inuchiyo. Taking his moods into account, not one of his attendants talked about Inuchiyo. But Nobunaga was not fully satisfied, and he said, "When two warriors fight in camp, or a blade is drawn on the castle grounds, it is an absolute rule that the punishment should be strict, regardless of the reasons for the argument. Inuchiyo's a valuable man, but quick-tempered by nature. And this is the second time he's wounded a retainer. Magnanimity beyond this cannot be permitted by law."

Later that night he grumbled to the senior retainer on duty, "That Inuchiyo! I wonder where he's gone, now that he's been banished. Being a ronin is good for the soul. Maybe a little hardship will do him some good."

And how were things going at the construction site? Nobunaga thought with bitter regret that it was the evening of the third day since Tokichiro had taken over as construction overseer. If he did not finish by dawn, he would be forced to commit seppuku, no matter how much Nobunaga regretted the matter. He's a stubborn man, too—Nobunaga said to himself—blurting out absurdities right in front of everybody.

Retainers like Inuchiyo and Tokichiro were in lowly positions and were young, but he knew well that among the retainers left from his father's time, there were few men with their talents. These two were rare men, he thought with some conceit, not only in his own small clan but in the world at large. What a loss! But he could not show his concern and hid it from his pages and older retainers.

That night he crawled into the mosquito net early. But just as he was going to sleep, a retainer crouched in the entrance of his bedroom. "My lord, it's an emergency! The Yamabuchi of Narumi have unfurled the flag of revolt and are making a show of their defense preparations."

"Narumi?" Nobunaga came out from under the net and, still in his white silk night clothes, went into the adjoining room and sat down.

"Genba?"

"My lord?"

"Come in."

Sakuma Genba came to the edge of the next room and prostrated himself. Nobunaga was fanning himself. In the evening one could already feel the cool of the early fall, but there were still swarms of mosquitoes in the castle grounds with its thick stands of trees.

"This is not really so unexpected," Nobunaga said at last, almost as if he had chewed the words and spat them out. "If the Yamabuchi are rebelling, then the boil that had been healing is festering a little again. We'll wait until it bursts by itself."

“Will you be going in person, my lord?"

"That won't be necessary."

"Your troops…"

"I don't think this will require a salve." He laughed and went on, "I doubt if they have the courage to attack Kiyosu, even if they are making military preparations. Samanosuke panicked when his son got injured. It would be better to watch them stew for a while from a distance."

Shortly after that Nobunaga went to bed again, but he got up the next morning earlier than usual. Or perhaps he couldn't sleep and was waiting for the dawn. He may have been far more worried in the back of his mind about the fate of Tokichiro than about the incident at Narumi. As soon as he got up, Nobunaga went with several attendants to in­spect the construction site.

The morning sun was rising. And in place of the previous day's battlefield, not one piece of lumber, not one stone, not one clod of earth or speck of sawdust had been left behind. The ground had been swept clean. With the dawn, the construction site was no longer a construction site. This exceeded Nobunaga's expectations. He rarely experienced surprise, and if he did so now just a little, he did not show it. But Tokichiro had com­pleted the job in three days, and, beyond that, anticipating Nobunaga's inspection, had had the remaining lumber and stones hauled out of the castle and the site swept clean.

Without thinking, Nobunaga's face glowed with joy and surprise. "He did it! Look at that! Look at what Monkey did!" Turning to his attendants, he spoke as though it were his own achievement. "Where is he? Call Tokichiro here."

"That seems to be Master Kinoshita coming across the Karabashi Bridge,"an atten­dant said.

The bridge was directly in front of them. And there was Tokichiro, running across the bridge toward them.

The logs for the scaffolding, as well as the leftover lumber and stones, the tools and the straw mats, were piled up into a mountain beside the moat. The artisans and laborers, who had spent three days and nights working without rest, were sleeping soundly, like so many cocooned caterpillars. Even the foremen, who had worked together with the work­ers, had lain on the ground and fallen asleep as soon as the construction was finished.

Nobunaga observed this scene from a distance. Once again he realized how he had undervalued Tokichiro's abilities. That Monkey! He knows how to make men work! If he has the ability to get laborers to work themselves to death, I should put him in charge of trained soldiers, and he might make quite a commander. It wouldn't be a mistake to send him into battle at the head of two or three hundred men. Nobunaga suddenly recalled a verse from Sun Tzu's Art of War.

The most important principle

For victory in war

Is having your soldiers

Die gladly.

Nobunaga repeated this over and over, but he doubted that he himself had that abil­ity, which certainly had nothing to do with strategy, tactics, or authority.

"You're certainly up early this morning, my lord. You can see what we have done to the castle wall."

Nobunaga looked down at his feet and there was Tokichiro, already kneeling with both hands pressed to the ground.

"Monkey?" Nobunaga burst out laughing. He had just now seen Tokichiro's face, which, after three days and nights without sleep, looked as if it were covered with a

half-dried, rough plaster coat. His eyes were bloodshot and his clothes were smeared with mud.

Nobunaga laughed again, but quickly felt sorry for the man and said seriously, "You've done well. You must be sleepy. You'd better sleep for an entire day."

"Thank you very much." Tokichiro basked in the praise. To be told that he could sleep all day to his heart's content, when the province itself did not have a day of rest, the greatest praise of all, Tokichiro thought as tears soaked his drooping eyelids. Even as he felt such satisfaction, however, he added, "I have a request, my lord."

"What is it?"

"A reward," Tokichiro said clearly, startling the attendants. Wouldn't this alter Nobunaga's rare good mood? They were concerned for Tokichiro.

"What do you want?"

"Money."

"A lot?"

"No, just a little."

"Is it for you?"

"No." Tokichiro pointed in the direction of the moat. "I'm not the one who did the construction. I would like just enough to divide among the workers over there, who are so tired they've fallen asleep."

"Speak to the keeper of the accounts and take as much as you need. But I should do something to reward you, too. How much is your stipend now?"

"I receive thirty kan"

"Is that all?"

"It's more than I deserve, my lord."

"I'll raise it to one hundred kan, move you to the spearmen's regiment, and put you in charge of thirty foot soldiers."

Tokichiro remained silent. Strictly in terms of the office, the positions of overseeing charcoal and firewood and overseer of building works were reserved for high-rank samurai. But the blood of youth ran through Tokichiro's veins, and it had naturally been his hope for a number of years to see active service with the archers' regiment or the musketeers. Being in charge of thirty foot soldiers was the lowest rank of troop leader among the commanders. But it was a job that pleased him far more than being in charge of stables or the kitchen.

He was so happy that he forgot discretion for the moment, and spoke thoughtlessly with the same mouth that had been so courteous before. "While I was working on the construction, there was something I was constantiy thinking about. The water supply in this castle is poor, no matter how you look at it. If the castle were besieged, drinking water would be lacking, and in a short while the moat would dry up. If something were to happen, the castle would only be good for making a sortie. But in the case of an attack by army that had no chance of victory in the field…"

Looking off to the side, Nobunaga pretended not to hear. But Tokichiro was not going to stop halfway. "I've always thought that Mount Komaki was far superior to Kjyosu both in terms of water supply and in terms of attack and defense. I would like suggest strongly that you move from Kiyosu to Mount Komaki, my lord."

At this suggestion, Nobunaga glared at him and barked, "Monkey, that's enough! You're getting carried away. Go away and sleep right now!"

"Yes, my lord." Tokichiro shrugged. I've learned a lesson, he thought. Failure is easy under favorable circumstances. One should be rebuked when he's in a good mood. I'm still not experienced enough. I let my happiness get the better of me, and went too far. I have to admit I'm still inexperienced.

After he had distributed the reward to the workers, he still did not go home to sleep, but rather walked around the castle town alone. In his heart, he could see the figure of Nene, whom he had not met for some time.

I wonder what she's been doing recently? As soon as he thought of Nene, he began to worry keenly about his self-sacrificing and obstinate friend, Inuchiyo, who had left the province and turned Nene's love over to him. Since Tokichiro had served the Oda clan, the only one to whom he had opened up his heart in friendship was Inuchiyo.

I'll bet he stopped in at Nene's house. Having to leave the province as a ronin, he wouldn't know when he would be able to see her again. No doubt he said something to her before he left, Tokichiro thought. To tell the truth, more than love or food, Tokichiro needed sleep right now. But when he thought about Inuchiyo's friendship, courage, and loyalty, he couldn't just sleep.

One true man will recognize another. So why did Nobunaga not recognize Inuchiyo's true value? Yamabuchi Ukon's treachery was known for some time, at least by Inuchiyo and Tokichiro. He could not figure out why Nobunaga was not aware of this, and he wondered with displeasure why Inuchiyo, who had wounded Ukon, was being punished.

Well, he said to himself, maybe it was punishment, or maybe banishing him was re­ally an expression of Nobunaga's love. When I spoke thoughtlessly, with a know-it-all face, I got a good rap from him. I have to admit that talking about the poor water supply and advocating a move to Komaki in front of the other retainers was bad manners, he thought as he walked around the town. He was not ill, but periodically he felt as though the earth were moving beneath him. In his sleepless state, the autumn sun seemed horri­bly bright.

When he saw Mataemon's house in the distance, it seemed as though his drowsiness had been shaken off; breaking into a laugh, he hurried his step.

"Nene! Nene!" he shouted. This was the residential quarter of the archers, and not an area of imposing roofed gates and mansions. The small, snug samurai houses with their neat front gardens and brushwood fences were lined up peacefully in rows.

It was Tokichiro's habit to speak in a loud voice, and when he unexpectedly spied the figure of his sweetheart, whom he had not seen for some time, he waved and hurried along with unfeigned emotion. So much so that every house in the neighborhood must have wondered what was happening. Nene turned around, her white face showing open surprise.

Love was supposed to be a well-kept secret. But when someone calls out so loudly that all the neighborhood windows open, and even her mother and father hear inside the house, it's only natural that a young girl would be embarrassed. Nene had been standing in front of the gate, staring vacantly at the autumn sky. But hearing Tokichiro's voice, her face turned bright red and she hid, trembling, inside the gate.

"Nene! It's me, Tokichiro!" At this point, Tokichiro raised his voice even higher, and ran up to her. "I'm sorry to have neglected you. I've been very busy with my duties."

Nene was half-hidden inside the gate, but since he had already greeted her, she bowed gracefully through necessity. "Your health should come first," she said.

"Is your father at home?" he asked.

"No, he's out."

Rather than inviting him in, she stepped back a little.

"Well, if Master Mataemon is out…" Tokichiro quickly realized how she might be embarrassed. "Then I'd better leave."

Nene nodded as though this was what she wanted, too.

"I just came to ask if Inuchiyo had dropped by."

"No, he hasn't." Nene shook her head, but the blood rushed to her face.

"He came, didn't he?"

"No."

"Really?"

Watching the red dragonflies flit about, Tokichiro was lost in thought for a moment. "He didn't show up at your house at all?" Nene hung her head, her eyes filled with tears. "Inuchiyo has displeased His Lordship and left Owari. Did you hear?"

"Yes."

"Did you hear this from your father?"

"No."

"Well, whom did you hear it from? No, there's no need to hide it. He and I are sworn friends. It doesn't make any difference, whatever he might have said to you. He came here, didn't he?"

"No. I found out about it just now—by letter."

"A letter?"

"Just a moment ago, someone threw something into the garden outside my room. When I came down to see, I found a letter wrapped around a small stone. It was from Master Inuchiyo." As she spoke, her voice faltered. She began to cry, and turned her back on Tokichiro. He had thought of her only as a wise, intelligent woman, but she was, all, a girl.

Tokichiro had discovered yet another level of beauty and appeal in what he had seen of this woman until now. "Would you let me see the letter? Or is it something that shouldn't be shown to anyone?" When he asked this, Nene took the letter from her kimono and meekly handed it to him.

Tokichiro opened it slowly. It was unmistakably Inuchiyo's hand. Its contents were simple. But to Tokichiro, the letter conveyed far more than was written in it.

I have cut down a person of consequence and must leave Lord Nobunaga's blessed province today. At one time I had dedicated both my life and my fate to love, talking it over honorably and man to man, we determined that you would be be off with Kinoshita, who is the better man. I leave, entrusting you to him. Please show this letter to Master Mataemon, too, and please, please put your mind at peace.  I am not sure we will ever be able to meet again.

Here and there, the characters were wet with tears. Were they Nene’s or Inuchiyo's? No, he realized, they were his own.


*    *

Narumi was prepared for war, and watched the movements at Kiyosu. But as the year came  to an end, there was no sign of an attack by Nobunaga.

Doubt and suspicion troubled the Yamabuchi, father and son. Their distress was augmented by yet something else. Not only had they deserted Nobunaga, but they were also being viewed with hostility by their former allies, the Imagawa of Suruga.

At this juncture, a rumor was spread around Narumi to the effect that the lord of the neighboring Kasadera Castle was in collusion with Nobunaga, and was going to attack Narumi from the rear.

Kasadera was a branch castle of the Imagawa. Whether by command of the Imagawa or by collusion with Nobunaga, an attack was certainly possible.

As the day passed, the rumor grew. Among the Yamabuchi clan and their retainers signs of panic were finally becoming apparent. The prevailing opinion was that they should mount a surprise attack on Kasadera. The father and son, who had taken such precautions shutting themselves up in an empty shell, finally took the initiative. Moving their army in the middle of the night, they set out for a morning attack on Kasadera Castle.

The same kind of rumors had been circulating at Kasadera, too, however, and had caused the same kind of nervousness. The garrison was quick to take countermeasures and was now on the alert.

The Yamabuchi attacked and the tide of battle quickly turned against the defenders, who, unable to wait for reinforcements from Suruga, set fire to the castle and perished fighting desperately in the midst of the flames.

The Narumi army that rushed into the charred castle was reduced to less than half strenght, owing to heavy losses. But they drove on with their gathered momentum and stormed the smoldering ruins, waving their swords, spears, and guns.

All of them joined in the loud shouts of victory. At which point, mounted men and soldiers arrived from Narumi, having escaped in miserable disorder.

“What happened?" asked a surprised Yamabuchi Samanosuke.

“Nobunaga's army was incredibly fast. Somehow he knew what was happening here, suddenly swooped down on our lightly guarded castle with more than a thousand men. The attack was furious, and we never had a chance!" The wounded man somehow made his report, gasping for breath, and went on to say that not only had the castle been taken but Samanosuke's son, Ukon, who had still not recovered from his wounds, had beencaptured and beheaded.

Samanosuke, who had just now raised the victory song, stood in a silent stupor. The area around Kasadera Castle, which he himself had attacked and taken, was nothing more than an uninhabited, burnt-out ruin.

“This is heaven's will!" With a shout, he took his sword and disembowelled himself on the spot. It was strange, however, that he should cry about it being heaven's will, for his end surely was one made by man and fashioned by himself.

Nobunaga had subjugated Narumi and Kasadera in a single day. Tokichiro had gone off somewhere soon after the construction of the castle wall was completed, and had not been seen for some time. But as soon as he heard that Narumi and Kasadera had come into the possession of Owari, he, too, returned unnoticed.

"Was it you who spread the rumors to both sides and caused dissension among our enemies?" When asked, Tokichiro just shook his head and said nothing.

Yoshimoto's Hostage

The people of Suruga Province did not call their capital Sumpu; to them it was simply the Place of Government, and its castle was the Palace. The citizens, from Yoshimoto and the members of the Imagawa clan down to the townsfolk, believed that Sumpu was the capi­tal of the greatest province along the eastern seaboard. The city was imbued with an aristocratic air, and even commoners followed the fashions of imperial Kyoto.

Compared to Kiyosu, Sumpu was another world. The atmosphere of its streets and the manners of its citizens, even the speed at which the people walked, and the way they looked at one another and talked; the citizens of Sumpu were relaxed and confident. One could tell their rank from the opulence of their clothes, and when they went out, they held fans over their mouths. The arts of music, dance, and poetry flourished. The serenity visible on every face hearkened back to some halcyon spring of ancient times. Sumpu was blessed. If the weather was fine, one could see Mount Fuji; if misty, the peaceful waves of the sea were visible beyond the pine grove of Kiyomidera Temple. The Imagawa soldiers were strong, and Mikawa, the domain of the Tokugawa clan, was little more than a subordinate province.

My veins run with the blood of the Tokugawa, and yet I am here. My retainers in Okazaki somehow maintain my castle; the province of Mikawa continues to exist, but its lord and its retainers are separated  Tokugawa Ieyasu meditated on these things day and night, but he could never speak of them openly. He pitied his retainers. But when he reflected on his own situation, he was thankful to be alive.

Ieyasu was only seventeen, but he was already a father. Two years before, after his coming-of-age ceremony, Imagawa Yoshimoto had arranged his marriage to the daughter of one of his own kinsmen. Ieyasu's son had been born the previous spring, so he was not yet six months old, and he often heard the baby's cries from the room in which he had set up his desk. His wife had not fully recovered from the birth and was still in the delivery room.

When this seventeen-year-old father heard his baby son crying, he was listening to his own flesh and blood. But he rarely went to see his family. He did not understand the feelings of tenderness toward children that other people talked about. When he searched his own heart for this emotion, he found it not just diminished, but totally lacking. Knowing that he was this kind of man and father, he felt sorry for his wife and child. Every time he felt this way, however, his compassion was not for his own family, but rather for his impoverished, humiliated retainers in Okazaki.

When he forced himself to think about his child, he was always sad. Soon he will set out on a journey through this bitter life and suffer the same privations I have.

At the age of five, Ieyasu had been sent as a hostage to the Oda clan. When he looked back over the trials he had suffered, he could not help but sympathize with his newborn son. The sorrow and tragedy of human life were certain to be his, too. Right now, however, on the surface, people saw that he and his family lived in a mansion no less splendid than those of the Imagawa.

What was that? Ieyasu went out onto the veranda. Someone outside had pulled on the vines that grew from the trees in the garden and wound up the mud walls. Recoiling from the torn vines, the twigs trembled faintly.

"Who is it?" Ieyasu called out. If it was a mischief-maker, the man would probably run away. He could hear no footsteps, however. Putting on a pair of sandals, he went out through the back gate in the mud wall. A man had prostrated himself as though waiting for him. A large wicker basket and staff lay by the man's side.

"Jinshichi?"

"It's been a long time, my lord."

Four years before, when he had finally received Yoshimoto's permission, Ieyasu had returned to Okazaki to visit his family graves. Along the way one of his retainers, Udono Jinshichi, had disappeared. Ieyasu was moved to pity when he saw the basket and staff and the changed figure of Jinshichi.

"You've become an itinerant priest."

"Yes, it's a convenient disguise for traveling around the country."

"When did you get here?"

"Just now. I wanted to see you in secret before setting off again."

"It's been four years, hasn't it? I've received your detailed reports, but not having heard from you after you went to Mino, I feared the worse."

"I ran into the civil war in Mino, and security at the border checkpoints and relay stations was tight for a while."

“You were in Mino? It must have been a good time to be there."

“I stayed in Inabayama for a year during the civil war. As you know, Saito Dosan’s castle was destroyed, and Yoshitatsu is now lord of all Mino. When the situation had settled down, I moved on to Kyoto and Echizen, passed through the northern province and went on to Owari."

"Did you go to Kiyosu?"

"Yes, I spent some time there."

"Tell me about it. Even though I am in Sumpu, I can guess what will happen to Mino, but the Oda clan's situation isn't very easily surmised."

"Shall I write a report and bring it to you this evening?"

"No, not in writing." Ieyasu turned to the rear entrance of the mud wall, but he seemed to be having second thoughts about something.

Jinshichi was his eyes and ears to the outside world. From the time he was five, Ieyasu had lived first with the Oda and then with the Imagawa, a wandering exile in enemy provinces. Living as a hostage, he had never known freedom, and this had not changed even now. The eyes, ears, and mind of a hostage are closed, and if he himself made no ef­fort, there was no one to scold or to encourage him. In spite of this, or perhaps because of the restraint that had been imposed on him since childhood, Ieyasu had become ex­tremely ambitious.

Four years before, he had sent Jinshichi to the other provinces so that he would be able to know what was going on—an early sign of Ieyasu's burgeoning ambition. "We'll be seen here, and if we talk in the mansion, my retainers will be suspicious. Let's go over there." Ieyasu walked away from the mansion with long strides.

Ieyasu's residence was in one of the quietest quarters of Sumpu. Walking a little way from the mud wall, they came to the bank of the Abe River. When Ieyasu was a child still carried on the backs of his retainers, it was to the Abe River that he was taken when he said that he wanted to go outside to play. The water in the river seemed to flow on eter­nally, and the riverbank never seemed to change. It brought back memories for Ieyasu.

"Jinshichi, untie the boat," Ieyasu said as he quickly stepped into the small fishing boat. When Jinshichi got into the boat with him and pushed on the pole, the boat floated away from the shallows like a bamboo leaf in the current. Master and retainer talked, knowing that they were hidden from the eyes of others for the first time. In the space of an hour, Ieyasu absorbed the information that Jinshichi had collected by traveling around for four years. Yet, more than what he had learned from Jinshichi, there was some dis­tant, great thing hidden in Ieyasu's heart.

"If the Oda haven't attacked other provinces so much in the past few years—unlike in Nobuhide's time—it must be to put their house in order," Ieyasu said.

"It didn't matter whether the people against him were relatives or retainers, Nobunaga resigned himself completely to the task. He struck down the people he had to strike down and ran off the people he had to run off. He's nearly swept Kiyosu clean of them."

"The Imagawa laughed at Nobunaga for a time, and it was rumored that he was just a spoiled, stupid brat."

"There is nothing of the fool about him," Jinshichi said.

"I've long thought that it was only malicious gossip. But when Lord Yoshimoto speaks of Nobunaga, he believes the gossip and doesn't see him as a threat at all."

"The martial spirit of the men of Owari is completely different from what it was a few years ago."

"Who are his good retainers?" Ieyasu asked.

"Hirate Nakatsukasa is dead, but he has a number of able men like Shibata Katsuie, Hayashi Sado, Ikeda Shonyu, Sakuma Daigaku, and Mori Yoshinari. Just recently he's been joined by an extraordinary man by the name of Kinoshita Tokichiro. He's very

low-ranking, but for some reason his name is often on the lips of the townspeople."

"How do the people feel about Nobunaga?"

"That's the most extraordinary thing. It's common for the ruler of a province to devote himself to governing his people. And people obey their masters as a rule. But in Owari, it's different."

"In what way?"

Jinshichi thought about this for a moment. "How can I put it? He doesn't do anything out of the ordinary, but as long as Nobunaga's there, the people are confident of the future—and while they know that Owari is a small, poor province with a penniless lord, the strange thing is that, like the people of a powerful province, they are not afraid of war or worried about their future."

"Hm. I wonder why?"

"Maybe because of Nobunaga himself. He tells them what is going on today and what will happen tomorrow, and he sets the goals toward which they all work."

Deep down, without really meaning to, Jinshichi was comparing the twenty-five-year old Nobunaga with the seventeen-year-old Ieyasu. In some ways, Ieyasu was far more mature than Nobunaga—there was nothing of the child in him. Both men had grown up under difficult circumstances, but there was really no comparison between them. Ieyasu had been handed over to enemies at the age of five, and the cruelty of the world had chilled him to the very marrow.

The little boat carried Jinshichi and Ieyasu down the center of the river, the time passing during their secret conversation. When their talk was over, Jinshichi guided them back to the bank.

Jinshichi quickly shouldered his basket and took up his staff. Bidding Ieyasu farewell, he said, "I will pass on your words to your retainers. Is there anything else, my lord?"

Ieyasu stood on the bank, immediately anxious about being seen. "There's nothing more. Go quickly." Motioning Jinshichi off with a nod, he suddenly said, "Tell them that I am well—I haven't been sick once." And he walked back to his mansion alone.

His wife's attendants were looking for him everywhere, and when they saw him coming back from the riverbank, one of them said, "Her ladyship is waiting anxiously, ;and sent us to look for you several times. She's extremely worried about you, my lord."

"Ah, is that so?" Ieyasu said. "Calm her down and tell her I'm coming right away.” And he went to his own room. When he sat down, he found another retainer, Sakakibara Heishichi, waiting for him.

"Did you take a walk to the riverbank?"

"Yes… just to kill time. What is it?"

"There was a messenger."

"From whom?" Without answering, Heishichi handed him a letter. It was from Sessai. Before cutting open the envelope, Ieyasu raised it reverently to his forehead. Sessai was a monk of the Zen sect who acted as a military adviser to the Imagawa clan. To leyasu, he was the teacher from whom he had received instructions in both booklearning and martial arts. His letter was concise:

The customary lecture will be given to His Lordship and his guests tonight. I will wait for you at the Northwest Gate of the Palace.

That was all. But the word "customary" was a codeword well known to Ieyasu. It meant a meeting of Yoshimoto and his generals to discuss the march on the capital. "Where is the messenger?"

"He left already. Will you go to the Palace, my lord?"

"Yes," Ieyasu replied, preoccupied.

"I think the proclamation of Lord Yoshimoto's march on the capital is near at hand." Heishichi had overheard the important war councils that had touched on that subject a number of times. He studied Ieyasu's face. Ieyasu mumbled a reply, seeming to be uninterested.

The Imagawa clan's evaluations of Owari's strength and of Nobunaga were very different from what Jinshichi had just reported. Yoshimoto planned to lead a huge army, made up of the forces of the provinces of Suruga, Totomi, and Mikawa, to the capital, and they expected to meet resistance in Owari.

"If we advance with a large army, Nobunaga will surrender without bloodshed." This vas the superficial view expressed by some of the members of the war council, but alhough Yoshimoto and his advisers, including Sessai, did not have such a low estimate of Nobunaga, none of them took Owari as seriously as Ieyasu did. He had offered an opinon on this once before, but he had been laughed down. Ieyasu was, after all, a hostage and young; and among the field staff he counted for very little.

Is this something I should bring up or not? Even if I press the point… Ieyasu was deep in thought, with Sessai's letter in front of him, when an old lady-in-raiting who served his wife spoke to him with a worried look on her face. His wife was in terrible mood, she said, and she urged him to visit her for just a moment.

Ieyasu's wife was a woman who thought of nothing but herself. She was completely indifferent both to affairs of state and to her husband's situation. Nothing entered her head other than her own daily life and the attentions of her husband. The old lady-in­-waiting understood this well, and when she saw that he was still talking with his retainer, she waited uneasily and silently, until another maid came in and whispered in her ear. There was nothing else the old lady-in-waiting could do. She interrupted them again, saying, "Excuse me, my lord…I'm terribly sorry, but Her Ladyship is very fretful." Bowing to Ieyasu, she timidly urged him once more to hurry.

Ieyasu knew that his wife's servants were troubled more than anyone else by this situation, and he himself was a patient man. "Ah, yes," he said, turning, and then, to Heishichi: "Well, make the necessary arrangements, and come and tell me when it's time." He stood up. The women ran in front of him with small steps, looking as though they had been saved.

The inner part of the house was some way off, so it was not unreasonable that his wife often longed to see him. Passing through the many turns of the central and bridged corridors, he finally got to his wife's private apartments.

On their wedding day, the clothes of the poor hostage husband from Mikawa could not compare with the luxury and brilliance of the dress of Lady Tsukiyama, an adopted daughter of Imagawa Yoshimoto. "The man from Mikawa"—known by this epithet, he was an object of contempt for the Imagawa clan. And living with such pride in her secluded quarters, she despised the retainers from Mikawa but showered her husband with all the devotion of her selfish, blind love. She was also older than Ieyasu. Considered within the limits of their shallow married life, Lady Tsukiyama saw Ieyasu as little more than a submissive youth who owed his existence to the Imagawa.

After giving birth in the spring following their wedding, she had become even more selfish and unreasonable. His wife taught him perseverance every day.

"Oh, you're up. Are you feeling a little better?" Ieyasu looked at his wife and, as he spoke, was about to open the sliding doors. He thought that if his sick wife could see the beauty of the autumn colors and the autumn sky, her mood might brighten.

Lady Tsukiyama had left the sickroom and was sitting in the middle of the reception room with a frigid look on her livid face. She narrowed her eyebrows as she spoke. "Leave them closed."

She was not exactly a beauty, but, as might be expected of a woman brought up the privileged environment of a wealthy family, her complexion had a fine sheen. Beyond that, both her face and her fingertips were almost translucently white, perhaps because her first delivery. She held her hands neady folded on her lap.

"Sit down, my lord. There is something I'd like to ask you." As she spoke, her words and eyes were as cold as ashes. But Ieyasu did not act at all as a young husband would be expected to behave—such mellow-spirited handling of one's spouse was more appropriate for a mature man. Or perhaps he held a certain opinion of women, and he was looking objectively at the person whom he should have loved the most.

"What is it?" he asked, sitting down in front of her as she had requested. But the more obedient her husband was, the more unreasonable she became.

"There's something I'd like to ask you. Did you go out somewhere a moment ago? Alone, without attendants?" Her eyes filled with tears. The blood was rising to her face, still thin from childbirth. Ieyasu knew both the state of her health and her character, and he smiled at her as if he were humoring a baby.

"Just now? I was tired of reading, so I took a leisurely walk along the riverbank. You should try taking a walk there. The autumn colors and the chirping of the insects—it’s pleasant at the riverbank this time of year."

Lady Tsukiyama was not listening. She was staring at her husband, rebuking him for his lie. She sat rigidly straight, with an air of indifference, but without her usual self-involvement. "That's strange. If you went out for a walk to listen to insects and look the autumn colors, why would you go out into the middle of the river in a small boat, hiding from people for such a long time?"

"Aha…you knew."

“I may be confined indoors, but I know everything you do."

“Is that so?" Ieyasu forced a smile, but did not speak of his meeting with Jinshichi.

Although this woman had become his bride, Ieyasu was never able to believe that she was really his wife. If retainers or relatives of her adoptive father called on her, she would tell them everything, and she was always exchanging letters with Yoshimoto's household.

Ieyasu had to be far more careful of his wife's unintentional carelessness than of the eyes of Yoshimoto's spies.

"No, I got into that boat on the riverbank without thinking much about it, and tried to ply the oar with the flow of the water. I thought I could handle the boat, but when I out into the current, I couldn't do a thing." He laughed. "Just like a child. Where were you when you saw me?"

"You're lying. You weren't alone, were you?"

"Well, a servant ran after me later."

"No, no. There's no reason for you to have a secret meeting in a boat, with someone who appears to be a servant."

"Who in the world has told you such a thing?"

"Even though I'm stuck inside, there are loyal people who think of me. You're hiding a woman somewhere, aren't you? Or if that's not it, perhaps you've grown tired of me and planning to run away to Mikawa. There's a rumor going around that you've taken another woman as your wife in Okazaki. Why are you hiding that from me? I know that youonly married me out of fear of the Imagawa clan."

Just as her sobbing voice, driven by illness and distrust, finally found expression, Sakakibara Heishichi appeared at the door. "My lord, your horse is ready. It's almost time.

"Are you going out?" Before Ieyasu could respond, Lady Tsukiyama cut him off. You've been absent more and more at night recendy, so where in the world are you going now?"

"To the Palace." Paying her no heed, Ieyasu was beginning to stand up. But she was not satisfied with his brief explanation. Why was he going to the Palace so late? And was it going to take until midnight, like the other night? Who was going with him? She asked innumerable questions.

Sakakibara Heishichi was waiting for his master on the other side of the door, and although he was only a retainer, he was getting a little impatient with all of this. Ieyasu, however, cheerfully comforted his wife and finally took his leave. Lady Tsukiyama, unhecked by Ieyasu's admonition that she might catch cold again, came to the entrance and saw him off.

"Come back quickly," she begged, putting all her love and fidelity into these parting words.

Ieyasu walked in silence to the main entrance. But as he started out under the stars, cooled by the evening breeze, he tousled his horse's mane, and his mood changed completely—proof that youthful, animated blood coursed through his veins. "Heishichi, we're a little late, aren't we?" Ieyasu asked.

"No. There was no hour clearly indicated on the note, so how can we be late?"

"That's not it. Even though Sessai is old, he's never been late. It would pain me, as a young man and a hostage, to be late for an appointment when the senior retainers and Sessai were already there. Let's hurry," he said, spurring his horse. Besides a groom and three servants, Heishichi was the only retainer escorting Ieyasu.  As Heishichi hurried along to keep up with the horse, he was moved to tears for his master, whose patient endurance with his wife and his submissive loyalty to the Palace—that is, to Imagawa Yoshimoto—must clearly cause him great anguish. As a retainer, it was his sworn duty to free his lord from his shackles. He must remove him from his subordinate position and restore him to his rightful place as lord of Mikawa. And to Heishichi, every day that went by without attaining his goal was another day of disloyalty.

He ran along, chewing his lip as he made his vow, his eyes moist with tears.

The castle moat came into view. When they crossed the bridge, there were no longer any shops or commoners' houses. Among the pines stood the white walls and imposing gates of the mansions of the Imagawa.

"Isn't that the lord of Mikawa? Lord Ieyasu!" Sessai called from the shadow of the pines.

The broad pine grove that meandered around the castle was a military assembly field during wartime, but its long, broad pathways were used as a riding ground in peacetime.

Ieyasu quickly dismounted, giving Sessai a respectful bow. "Thank you for taking the time to come here tonight, Your Reverence."

"These messages are always sudden. It certainly must be troublesome for you."

"Not at all." Sessai was alone. He walked along in old straw sandals the size of which matched the huge proportions of body. Ieyasu began to walk along with him and, as courtesy to his teacher, one step behind him, handing the reins of his horse to Heishichi.

Listening to his teacher, Ieyasu suddenly felt a gratitude to this man that he could not express in words. No one could argue that being a hostage in another province was anything but a misfortune, but when he thought about it, he realized that receiving an education from Sessai was more good fortune than bad.

It is difficult to find a good teacher. Had he stayed in Mikawa, he would never have had the opportunity to study under Sessai. So he would not have had the classical and military education he had now—or the training in Zen, which he regarded as the most precious thing he had learned from Sessai.

Why Sessai, a Zen monk, had entered the service of the lord of the Imagawa and become his military adviser was not understood in other provinces, and they considered it rather strange. Thus there were people who called Sessai a "military monk" or a "worldly monk," but if his lineage had been investigated, they would have discovered that Sessai was Yoshimoto's kinsman. Still, Yoshimoto was only Yoshimoto of Suruga, Totomi, and Mikawa. Sessai's fame, however, knew no boundaries; he was Sessai of all the universe.

But Sessai had used his talents for the Imagawa. As soon as he had seen the signs of defeat for the Imagawa in a war against the Hojo, the monk had helped Suruga to negotiate a peace treaty without disadvantage to Yoshimoto. And when he had arranged the marriage of Hojo Ujimasa to a daughter of Takeda Shingen, lord of Kai, the powerful province on their northern border, and the marriage of Yoshimoto's daughter with Shingen’s son, he had demonstrated great political skill by tying the three provinces into a alliance.

He was not the kind of monk who went about in splendid isolation with a staff and atattered hat. He was not a "pure" Zen monk. It could be said that he was a political monk, a military monk, or even an unmonkish monk. But whatever he was called, it did not affect his greatness.

Sessai spoke sparingly, but something he had told Ieyasu on the veranda of the Rizai Temple  had stuck in Ieyasu's mind: "Hiding in a cave, roaming about alone like the wandering clouds and the flowing water—being a great monk is not in these things alone. A monk's mission changes with the times. In today's world, to think only of my own enlightenment and live like one who 'steals the tranquillity of the mountains and fields,' as if I despised the world, is a self-indulgent kind of Zen." They crossed the Chinese Bridge and passed through the northwestern gate. It was difficult to believe that they were inside the walls of a castle. It was as though the palace of the shogun had been transported here. Toward Atago and Kiyomizu, the majestic cone of Mount Fuji was darkening in the evening. The lamps were lit in the niches along the corridors that stretched as far as the eye could see. Women so lovely they could have been miitaken for court ladies passed by, cradling koto or carrying flasks of sake.

"Who's that in the garden?" Imagawa Yoshimoto held a fan in the shape of a ginkgo leaf over his slightly reddened face. He had crossed over the garden's red half-moon bridge. Even the pages who followed him wore elaborate clothes and swords.

One of the pages went back along the bridged corridor and hurried into the garden. Someone was screaming. It sounded like a woman's voice to Yoshimoto, so, thinking it strange, he had stopped.

"What's happened to the page?" Yoshimoto asked after a few minutes. "He hasn't come back. Iyo, you go."

Iyo went down into the garden and ran off. Although the place was called a garden, it was so large that it looked as if it led to the foothills of Mount Fuji. Leaning against the pillar where the bridged corridor angled away from the main walkway, Yoshimoto beat a rythm with his fan and sang to himself.

He was pale enough to be mistaken for a woman, because he used light makeup. He was forty years old and in the prime of manhood. Yoshimoto was enjoying the world and was at the height of his prosperity. He wore his hair in the style of the nobility, his teeth were elegantly blackened, and a mustache sprouted beneath his nose. For the last two years he had put on weight, and, being born with a long trunk and short legs, he now looked a little deformed. But his gilded sword and his richly brocaded clothes mantled him with an aura of dignity. Someone finally came back, and Yoshimoto stopped humming.

"Is it you, Iyo?"

"No, it's Ujizane."

Ujizane was Yoshimoto's son and heir, and looked like someone who had never known hardship.

"What are you doing out in the garden when it's almost dusk?"

"I was beating Chizu, and when I unsheathed my sword she ran away."

"Chizu? Who is Chizu?"

"She's the girl who looks after my birds."

"A servant?"

"Yes."

"What could she have done that you had to punish her with your own hands?"

"She's hateful. She was feeding a rare bird that had been sent to me all the way from

Kyoto, and she let it escape," Ujizane said seriously. He was inordinately fond of songbirds. It was well known among the nobility that if someone found a rare bird and sent it to him, Ujizane would be absurdly happy. Thus, without lifting a finger, he had become the owner of a collection of extravagant birds and cages. So here, it was said, a human being could be killed for the sake of a bird. Ujizane was furious, as if the matter had beer an important affair of state.

An indulgent father, Yoshimoto muttered in disappointment at his son's foolish anger. And this was in front of his retainers. Even though Ujizane was his heir, having demonstrated this kind of imbecility, Yoshimoto's retainers were unlikely to think much of him.

"You fool!" Yoshimoto shouted violently, intending to show his great love. "Ujizane, how old are you? You had your coming-of-age ceremony a long time ago. You're the heir of the Imagawa clan, but you do nothing but amuse yourself by raising birds. Why don't you do a little Zen meditation, or read some military treatises?"

Being spoken to like this by a father who almost never scolded him, Ujizane turned pale and fell silent. He generally considered his father easy to deal with; however, he was already of an age when he could look at his father's behavior with a critical eye. Now, instead of arguing, he simply pouted and sulked. Yoshimoto felt that this too was a weak point. Ujizane was very dear to him, and he knew that his own conduct had never pro­vided a good example for his son.

"That's enough. Restrain yourself from now on. All right, Ujizane?"

“Yes.”

"Why are you looking so disgruntled?"

"I'm not disgruntled about anything."

"Well then, be off with you. These are not the times for raising birds."

"Well, but…"

"What do you want to say?"

"Are these times for drinking sake with girls from Kyoto and dancing and beating the drum all afternoon?"

"Hold your tongue, know-it-all!"

"But you—"

"Silence!" Yoshimoto said, throwing his fan at Ujizane. "Rather than criticizing your father, you should know your place. How can I proclaim you as my heir, if you take no interest in military matters and learn nothing about administration and economics? Your father studied Zen when he was a young man, went through all sorts of difficulties, and fought countless battles. Today I am the master of this small province, but I will rule the entire country one day. How could I have had a child with so little courage and so few ambitions? There's nothing I can complain of now except dissatisfaction with you."

At some point, Yoshimoto's retainers found themselves cowering in the corridor, Struck by his words, every one of them silently stared at the floor. Even Ujizane hung his head and stared at his father's fan at his feet.

Just then, a samurai came in and announced, "His Reverence Master Sessai, Lord Ieyasu, and the senior retainers are waiting for Your Lordship in the Mandarin Orange Pavilion."

The Mandarin Orange Pavilion was built on a slope dotted with mandarin orange trees, and it was here that Yoshimoto had invited Sessai and his other advisers, ostensibly for a nighttime tea ceremony.

'Ah! Really? Is everyone there? As the host, I shouldn't be late." Yoshimoto spoke as though he had been saved from the confrontation with his son, and walked down the corriidor in the opposite direction.

The tea ceremony had been nothing but a ruse from the start. Appropriately for an evening tea ceremony, though, the flickering shadows cast by the lanterns, combined with the chirping of insects, seemed to envelop the place an in air of elegance. But as soon as Yoshimoto had entered and the door was shut, soldiers patrolled the grounds so tightly that water could not have leaked in unnoticed.

"His Lordship." A retainer announced his master as though he were heralding royalty.  In the large room, built in the manner of temples, a faint light flickered. Sessai and the senior retainers were all seated in a line, with Tokugawa Ieyasu at the far end. The line of men bowed to their master.

Yoshimoto's silk clothes whispered perceptibly in the silence. He took his seat, unaccompanied by either page or attendant. His only two attendants were holding back at a distance of two or three yards.

"Excuse my lateness," Yoshimoto said in reply to the bows of his field staff. Then, paying sppecial attention to Sessai, he said, "I'm afraid this is an imposition on you, Your Reverence." It was Yoshimoto's habit of late to inquire about the monk's health whenever they met. Sessai had been prone to illness for the last five or six years, and recently he had aged perceptibly.

Sessai had instructed, protected, and inspired Yoshimoto since childhood. Yoshimoto knew that he owed his greatness to Sessai's statecraft and planning. Thus, at first, Yoshimoto   could not help feeling Sessai's age very much as he felt his own. But when he realized fhat the strength of the Imagawa had not suffered by not relying on Sessai, and that it was, in fact, more vital than ever, he began to believe that his successes were due to his own ability.

"As I am now an adult," Yoshimoto had told Sessai, "please don't worry yourself about the administration of the province or military matters. Spend your remaining years pleasantly, and concentrate on the promulgation of the Way of the Buddha." It was clear that he had begun to keep Sessai at a respectful distance.

But from Sessai's point of view, watching Yoshimoto was like watching a stumbling child, and he felt the same kind of distress. Sessai looked at Yoshimoto exactly as Yoshimoto looked at his son, Ujizane. Sessai thought that Yoshimoto was unreliable. He knew that Yoshimoto felt uncomfortable in his presence and had kept him away, using Sessai's illness as a pretext, but he still tried to assist in both administrative and military matters  From the beginning of spring that year, he had not missed one of the more than ten conferences in the Mandarin Orange Pavilion, even when he was ill. Would they move now, or wait a little longer? This conference was going to decide one way or the other, and the rise or fall of the Imagawa clan would depend on the decision.

Enveloped in a light shower of cricket songs, the conference that would transform the government of the nation was conducted in the strictest privacy. When the chirping of the insects stopped suddenly, the group of guards paced back and forth along the hedges outside the pavilion.

"Did you investigate what we talked about at the last conference?" Yoshimoto asked one of his generals.

The general spread out some documents on the floor and opened the conference by explaining them in outline. He had written a report on the military and economic power of the Oda clan. "It's said to be a small clan, but recently it would seem that its economy has rallied remarkably." As he spoke, he showed diagrams to Yoshimoto. "Owari is said to be a united province, but within its eastern and southern sections there are places, like Iwakura Castle, which owe their allegiance to you, my lord. Additionally, there are men who, although they are Oda retainers, are known to feel ambivalendy about their loyalties. Thus, under the present circumstances, the possessions of the Oda clan are less than one-half, possibly only two-fifths, of all of Owari."

"I see," Yoshimoto said. "It seems to be a small clan, just as we've heard. How many soldiers can they muster?"

"If you look at their possessions as being only two-fifths of Owari, the area would produce about one hundred sixty to one hundred seventy thousand bushels of rice. If you figure that ten thousand bushels supports about two hundred fifty men, then even if the entire Oda force were raised, it would not exceed four thousand men. And if you subtract those garrisoning the castles, I doubt that they could call up more than about three thou­sand men."

Yoshimoto suddenly broke into laughter. Whenever he laughed, it was his habit to tilt his body a little and cover his blackened teeth with his fan. "Three or four thousand, you say? Well, that's hardly enough to prop up a province. Sessai says that the enemy to watch on the way to the capital would be the Oda, and all of you have repeatedly brought up the Oda, too. So I commissioned these reports. But what are three or four thousand men going to do in the face of my military forces? What kind of trouble is it going to be to kick him around and then knock him down with a single blow?"

Sessai said nothing; the other men also kept their mouths shut. They knew that Yoshimoto was not going to change his mind. The plan had existed for some years now, and the aim of all their military preparations and the administration of the Imagawa domains was Yoshimoto's march on the capital and his domination of the entire country. The time was ripe, and Yoshimoto was unable to hold himself in check a moment longer.

Yet, if several conferences had been held since the spring, aiming at decisive action, and the goal had still not been attained, it meant that within this pivotal group there was someone who argued that it was still premature. The dissenting voice was Sessai's. More than arguing that it was still premature, Sessai conservatively advocated recommendations concerning internal administration. He did not criticize Yoshimoto's ambition of unifying the country, but neither did he ever express approval.

:The Imagawa is the most illustrious clan of its generation," he had said to Yoshi­moto.  If there comes a time when there is no successor to the shogun, someone from the Imagawa clan would have to take a stand. You, by all means, must have this great ambition and begin to cultivate yourself for the capacity of ruling the nation from now on." It

was Sessai himself who had taught Yoshimoto to think on a broad scale: Rather than being the master of a single castle, be the ruler of an entire province; rather than being the ruler of a single district, be the governor of ten provinces; rather than being the governor of ten provinces, be the ruler of the country.

Everyone preached this. And all samurai children faced the chaotic world with this in mind. This was also the main point in Sessai's training of Yoshimoto. So, from the time Sessai had joined Yoshimoto's field staff, the armed forces of the Imagawa clan expanded precipitously. Steadily, Yoshimoto had stepped up the ladder towards hegemony. But re­cently Sessai had felt a great contradiction between his training of Yoshimoto and his role as an adviser: somehow he had started to feel uneasy about Yoshimoto's plans to unify the country.

He hasn't got the capacity, Sessai thought. Watching Yoshimoto's growing confidence, especially in recent years, Sessai's thoughts had become acutely more conservative. This is his peak. This is as far as his capacity as a ruler can go. I've got to get him to drop the idea. This was the source of Sessai's anguish. Yet there was little reason to believe that Yoshimoto, so proud of his worldly advancement, would suddenly drop the idea of making his bid for supremacy. Sessai's remonstrations were laughed at as symptoms of his dotage, and went unheeded. Yoshimoto considered the country to be already in his grasp.

I should put an end to this quickly. Sessai no longer admonished him. Instead, every e there was a conference, he stressed extreme prudence.

"What kind of difficulties am I going to encounter when I march on Kyoto with all my power and the great armies of Suruga, Totomi, and Mikawa?" Yoshimoto asked again.

He planned a bloodless march on the capital, ascertaining the actual conditions of all the provinces on the way and planning a diplomatic policy ahead of time to avoid as much fighting as possible. But the first battle on the road to Kyoto was not going to be with the strong provinces of Mino or Omi. It was going to be, first and foremost, against the Oda of Owari. They were small fry. But they were not to be conciliated by diplomacy, or bought off.

They were going to be a troublesome enemy indeed. And this was not just today's or yesterday's enemy. For the last forty years the Oda and the Imagawa had been at war. If a castle was taken, another would be captured by the other side, and if a town was burned, ten villages would be set on fire in return. In fact, from the time of Nobunaga's father and Yoshimoto's grandfather, the two clans seemed fated to bury the bones of their men at the border of the two provinces.

When the rumor of the Imagawa march to the capital reached the Oda, they were quickly resolved to fight one great decisive battle. For Yoshimoto, the Oda were the ideal victims for the army advancing on the capital, and he continued to refine his schemes against them.

This was the last council of war. Sessai, Ieyasu, and his attendants left the palace. On their way home it was pitch black; not a light was burning in Sumpu.

“There's nothing we can do but pray to heaven for good luck," Sessai mumbled. With age, even an enlightened mind gets foolish again. "How cold it is," Sessai complained, but it was not a night one would think of as being cold. When people thought about it later, it was from this time that the abbot's illness worsened. That was the last night that Sessai's feet ever trod the earth. In the loneliness of mid-autumn, Sessai died quietiy, unnoticed.

*  *  *

In the middle of that winter, there seemed to be a lull in the skirmishes at the border, but it was actually the season of building up strength for taking even greater actions. The following year the winter barley in the fertile fields of the coastal provinces grew tall. The cherry blossoms fell, and the smell of the young leaves on the seedlings rose to the sky.

It was early summer. Yoshimoto proclaimed the order from Sumpu for his army to advance on the capital. The huge scale and the resplendent traveling attire of the army of the Imagawa made the entire world open its eyes wide in astonishment. And his proclamation made the small and weak provinces cower in fear. The message was clear and simple:

Those who obstruct the advance of my army will be struck down. Those who welcome it with civilities will be well treated.

After the Boys' Festival, Yoshimoto's heir, Ujizane, was left in charge of Sumpu, and on the twelfth day of the Fifth Month, the main army advanced in fine array amid the cheers of the people. The magnificent warriors, whose radiance rivaled the light of the sun, marched toward the capital, like the unrolling of a gaudy picture scroll—commanders' standards, banners, flags, weapons, and armor. The army probably numbered around twenty-five or twenty-six thousand men, but it was purposely proclaimed to be an army of forty thousand.

The vanguard of the advance troops entered the post town of Chiryu on the fifteenth and, approaching Narumi on the seventeenth, set fire to the villages in that part of Owari. The weather had been continually fine and warm. The furrows of the barley fields and the earth that bloomed with flowers were dried white. In the blue sky here and there rose the black smoke of burning villages. But not a single report of a gun came from the Oda province. The farmers had been commanded beforehand to evacuate, and to leave nothing for the advancing Imagawa.

"At this rate, the castle in Kiyosu will also be empty!"

The officers and men of the Imagawa felt the heaviness of their armor in the tedium of the peaceful, flat roads.

Inside Kiyosu Castle, the lamps blazed this evening in the midst of a hushed world. They seemed, however, to be lamps lit just before the impending onslaught of a violent storm. The trees that stood in unmoving silence on the castle grounds called to mind the uncanny stillness in the eye of a typhoon. And still no instructions were sent from the castle to the townsfolk. There was no command to evacuate or to prepare for a siege, and in the absence of anything else, not even a message of reassurance. The merchants opened their shops as usual. The craftsmen were doing their work as they always did. Even the farmers were cultivating their fields. But the coming and going of traffic on the roads had halted several days before.

The town was a bit lonelier and rumors abounded.

"I've heard that Imagawa Yoshimoto is marching west with an army of forty thou­sand men."

Wherever the uneasy citizens met, they speculated about their fate:

"I wonder how Lord Nobunaga plans to defend the town?"

"There's just no way to defend it. No matter how you look at it, our troops don't amount to even one-tenth of the Imagawa forces."

And in the midst of this, they saw the clan's generals passing through the town, one after another. Some were commanders leaving the castle and returning to their districts, but several of them appeared to have taken their stand in the castle.

"They're probably discussing whether to capitulate to the Imagawa or risk the survival of the clan and fight." Such perceptions of the common people were concerned with things they could not witness, but they usually did not miss the mark. In fact, that very controversy had been repeatedly gone over in the castle for several days. At every conference, the generals were divided into two factions.

The advocates of "the safe plan" and "the clan first" said that the best policy would be to submit to the Imagawa. But the controversy did not last long. And this was because Nobunaga had already made up his mind.

His only motive in convening a conference of the senior retainers was to let them know his decision, not to inquire about a dependable plan of self-defense or a policy to reserve Owari. When they understood Nobunaga's resolve many of the generals responded positively and, taking heart, returned to their castles.

Thereafter, Kiyosu was as peaceful as usual, and the number of soldiers in Kiyosu did not markedly increase. As might be expected, however, Nobunaga was awakened innulerable times that night to read the reports of messengers from the front.

Again, on the following night, immediately after finishing his frugal evening meal, Nobunaga went to the main hall to discuss the military situation. There, the generals who had not yet taken their leave were still in constant attendance on him. None of them had had sufficient sleep, and their pale features showed their resolve. The retainers who were not involved in the discussion were packed into the next room and the room after that,. Men like Tokichiro were far off, sitting somewhere a number of rooms away. Two nights before, last night and tonight as well, they were anxious and as silent as if they were holding their breaths. And there must have been a number of men that night who looked round at the white lamps and their companions, thinking, This is just like a wake.

In the midst of this, laughter could be heard from time to time. This came from Nounaga alone. Those seated far away did not know the object of this laughter, but it could be heard over and over again, two or three rooms away.

Suddenly a messenger could be heard running down the corridor. Shibata Katsuie, who was to read the report to Nobunaga, turned white before the words could leave his mouth.

"My lord!"

"What is it?"

"The fourth dispatch since this morning has just arrived from the fortress at Marune."

Nobunaga moved his armrest in front of him. "Well?"

"It seems that the Imagawa are marching to Kutsukake this evening."

"Is that so?" This was all Nobunaga said as his eyes stared vacantly at the carved transom in the hall.

Even he seemed confused. Though these men had recently come to rely on Nobunaga's obstinacy, they couldn't help feeling lost. Kutsukake and Marune were within the domain of the Oda clan. And if that line of scattered but essential fortresses had been bro­ken, the Owari Plain had almost no defenses, and the road to Kiyosu Castle could be crossed with one swift effort.

"What are you going to do?" Katsuie asked as if he could not bear the silence any longer. "We've heard that the Imagawa army may number as many as forty thousand men. Our force is less than four thousand. There are only seven hundred men at Marune Castle, at most. Even if the vanguard of the Imagawa, the forces under Tokugawa Ieyasu of Mikawa, number only two thousand five hundred, Marune is a single ship driven be­fore the high waves."

"Katsuie, Katsuie!"

"We cannot hold Marune and Washizu until dawn—"

"Katsuie! Are you deaf? What are you babbling about? There's nothing to be gained by repeating the obvious."

"But—" Just as Katsuie began to speak, he was interrupted by the clattering footsteps of yet another messenger. The man spoke ostentatiously from the entrance of the next room.

"There is urgent news from both the fortresses of Nakajima and Zenshoji."

The reports from those at the front lines who had resolved to die gloriously in battle were always pathetic, and the ones that arrived just now from the two fortresses were no different. Both began, "This is, perhaps, the last dispatch we will be able to send to Kiyosu Castle…."

The last two dispatches contained the same information about the disposition of the enemy's troops, and both predicted an attack on the following day.

"Read the part about the disposition of the troops again," Nobunaga ordered Katsuie, leaning on his armrest. He read the itemized part of the document again, not only to Nobunaga but to all of those who were sitting there in a row.

"The enemy forces approaching the fortress at Marune: about two thousand five hundred men. The enemy forces approaching the fortress at Washizu: about two thousand men. Lateral auxiliary forces: three thousand men. The main force advancing in the direction of Kiyosu: approximately six thousand men. The main Imagawa army: about five thousand men." Reading further, Katsuie went on to comment that beyond what was apparent in these numbers, it was unclear how many small groups of the enemy were trav­eling undercover. While Nobunaga and all the others listened to Katsuie, he rolled up the scroll and placed it in front of him.

They would fight to the very end. The course was determined. There was no more room to debate. But it was agonizing for all of them to stand idly by and do nothing. Nei­ther Washizu, Marune, nor Zenshoji was far away. If you put the whip to a horse's ribs, you could arrive at any of these places quickly. They could almost see this great army of

The Imagawa's forty thousand men approach like a tide. They could almost hear them.

From one corner of the depressed group came the voice of an old man sunk in grief. “You've made a manly decision, but you shouldn't think that dying gloriously in battle is the only way open to the samurai. Shouldn't you think this over again? Why, even if I'm called a coward, I say there's still room for more deliberation, just in order to save the clan.

It was Hayashi Sado, the man with the longest service among them all. Together with Hirate Nakatsukasa, who had admonished Nobunaga with his suicide, he was one of the three senior retainers ordered by the dying Nobuhide to take care of Nobunaga. And he was the only one of those three who was still alive. Hayashi's thoughts had the sympathy of all the men there. And they all secretly prayed that Nobunaga would take the old man's words to heart.

"What time is it now?" Nobunaga asked, changing the subject.

"It's the Hour of the Rat," someone replied from the next room. As the words trailed off and the night deepened, melancholy seemed to settle on them all.

Finally Hayashi prostrated himself and spoke with his white head bowed to the floor in Nobunaga's direction. "My lord, think this over one more time. Let's negotiate. I beg you. At dawn, all of our men and fortresses are likely to be crushed before the forces of the Imagawa and will probably suffer an irreversible defeat. Rather than that, a peace conference, to bind them in a peace conference just moments before—"

Nobunaga glanced at him. "Hayashi?"

"Yes, my lord."

"You're an old man, so it must be difficult to sit for a long time. The discussion here is over, and the hour is getting late. Go home and sleep."

"That's going too far  " Hayashi said, shedding copious tears. He wept because he thought the clan had reached its final days. At the same time, he regretted being considered a useless old man. "If you're that determined, I'm not going to say anything else about your intention to fight."

"Don't!"

"You seem to be immovable in your desire to leave the castle and fight, my lord."

"I am."

"Our forces are small—less than one-tenth of the enemy's. To go out into the field and fight would give us less than one chance in a thousand. If we closed ourselves in behind the castle walls, we should be able to devise some plan."

"A plan?"

"If we could block the Imagawa for even two weeks or a month, we could send messengers to Mino or Kai and ask for reinforcements. As for other strategies, there are more than a few resourceful men at your side who know how to harass the enemy."

Nobunaga laughed loudly enough for it to echo off the ceiling. "Hayashi, those are strategies for ordinary times. Do you think these are ordinary times for the Oda clan?"

“That's hardly necessary to answer."

“Even if we could extend our lives by five or ten days, a castle that can't be held can't held. But who was it that said, 'The direction of our fate always remains unknown'? When I think about it, it seems to me that we're at the very bottom of adversity now.

And adversity is interesting. Our adversary is huge, of course. Still, this may be the mo­ment of a lifetime given to me by fate. Shutting ourselves up in our tiny castle in vain, should we pray for a long life without honor? Men are born to die. Dedicate your lives to me this time. Together we'll ride out under a bright blue sky and meet our deaths like true warriors." When he finished speaking, Nobunaga quickly changed his tone of voice.

"Well, nobody looks like he's had enough sleep." A forced smile appeared on his lips. "Hayashi, you sleep too. Everyone should get some sleep. I'm sure there's no one among us so cowardly that he won't be able to sleep."

This having been said, it would have been unseemly not to sleep. But in fact, there was no one among the retainers who had slept properly for the last two nights. Nobunaga was the only exception. He slept at night and even took naps during the day, not in his bedroom, but anywhere.

Mumbling almost in resignation, Hayashi bowed to both his lord and his colleagues, and withdrew.

Like teeth being pulled, every man got up and left one by one. Finally, only Nobunaga remained in the wide audience chamber. And in the end, he even looked rather carefree. When he turned around, he saw behind him two sleeping pages leaning against each other. One of them, Tohachiro, was just thirteen years old that year. He was Maeda Inuchiyo's younger brother. Nobunaga called to him.

"Tohachiro!"

"My lord?" Tohachiro sat straight up, wiping the dribble from his mouth with his hand.

"You sleep well."

"Please forgive me."

"No, no. I'm not scolding you. On the contrary, that's high praise. I'm going to sleep a little too. Give me something to use as a pillow."

"You're going to sleep just as you are?"

"Yes. The dawn comes early these days, so it's a good season for naps. Pass me that box over there. I'll use that." Nobunaga curled up as he spoke, supporting his head with his elbow until Tohachiro brought over the box. His body felt as if it were a floating boat. The lid of the box was decorated with a gold-lacquered design of pine, bamboo, and plum trees—symbols of good luck. Putting it under his head, Nobunaga said, "This pillow will give me good dreams." Then, chuckling to himself, Nobunaga closed his eyes, and finally, as the page put out the numerous lamps one by one, the faint smile on his face faded like melting snow. He fell into a deep sleep, his face at peace amid his snores.

Tohachiro crept out to inform the samurai in the guard room. The guards were feeling gloomy, thinking that it was the end. And what was absolute, of course, was that there was nothing for them other than death. The men inside the castle stared directly at death, the hours already passing midnight.

“I don't mind dying. The question is, how are we going to die?" This was the basis of their uneasiness, and it had still not been settled in anyone's breast. Therefore, there were some men among them who had not yet gathered their courage.

“He shouldn't catch cold," Sai, his lady-in-waiting, said, and put a coverlet over Nobunaga. After that, he slept for two hours.

The oil in the lamps was now almost consumed, and the dying wicks made little sputtering sounds. Nobunaga suddenly lifted his head and called out. "Sai! Sai! Is anyone there?"

The Lord with the Blackened Teeth

The cedar door slid open noiselessly. Sai bowed reverentiy to Nobunaga and gently closed the door behind her.

"Are you awake, my lord?"

"What time is it?"

"The Hour of the Ox."

"Good."

"What are your orders?"

"Bring me my armor and have my horse saddled. And make me some breakfast."

Sai was an efficient woman, and Nobunaga always called upon her to look after his personal needs. She accepted what was to come and did not make a fuss. After shaking awake the page who was asleep in the next room, she told the samurai on guard duty to fetch Nobunaga's horse, then she took in her master's meal.

Nobunaga picked up his chopsticks. "When dawn comes, this will be the nineteenth day of the Fifth Month."

"Yes, my lord."

"This must be the earliest breakfast being eaten in the entire country. It's delicious. I'll have another bowl. What else is there?"

"Some dried kelp and chestnuts."

“Well, you've done me proud." Nobunaga cheerfully finished his gruel and ate two or three chestnuts. "That was a feast. Sai, give me my hand drum." Nobunaga treasured the drum, which he had called Narumigata. He put it to his shoulder and tried out two or three beats. "It sounds good! Maybe because it's so early in the morning, but it sounds much clearer than usual. Sai, play a section from Atsumori for me to dance to."

Sai obediently took the small drum from Nobunaga's hands and began to play. The

sound of the drum under her lithe fingers rang clearly through the wide rooms of the cas­tle, almost as if it were singing: Wake up! Wake up!

To think that a man

Has but fifty years to live under heaven…

Nobunaga stood up. He began to take graceful steps as smooth as water, and sang in time with the rhythm of the drum.

Surely this world

Is nothing but a vain dream.

Living but one life,

Is there anything that will not decay?

His voice was both unusually resonant and loud. And he sang as though he had reached the end of his life.

A samurai was hurrying down the corridor. His armor clanked noisily on the wooden floor as he knelt down. "Your horse is ready. We await your orders, my lord."

Nobunaga's hands and feet stopped in the middle of the dance, and he turned to the speaker. "Aren't you Iwamuro Nagato?"

"Yes, my lord."

Iwamuro Nagato was in full armor and was wearing his long sword. Yet, Nobunaga had not yet put on his armor and was dancing to the beat of a lady-in-waiting's drum. Nagato seemed dismayed and looked around doubtfully. The messenger who had brought the command to prepare the lord's horse for battle was his page. Everyone was exhausted from lack of sleep, and the page's nerves were on edge. Wasn't this some sort of mistake? Nagato had dressed in a hurry, but he was bewildered to find the leisurely figure of Nobunaga. Usually, when Nobunaga said, "Horse!" he would fly out before his retain­ers had time to get ready, so Nagato thought that this was more than unusual.

"Come in," said Nobunaga, his hands still in the correct posture of the dance. "Na­gato, you're a lucky man. You're the only one able to observe my farewell dance to this life. That should be quite a sight."

When Nagato understood what his lord was doing, he was ashamed of his own doubts and edged over to a corner of the room.

"That I should be the only one among my lord's many retainers to witness the most important dance of his lifetime is good fortune far beyond my lowly position. Still, I would ask permission to sing my own farewell to this world."

"You can sing? Good. Sai, from the beginning." The lady-in-waiting was silent and dropped her head a little with the drum. Nagato had realized that when Nobunaga had said dance, he meant Atsumori.

To think that a man

Has but fifty years to live under heaven.

Surely this world

Is nothing but a vain dream.

Living but one life,

Is there anything that does not decay?

As Nagato chanted, his many years of service, dating from Nobunaga's youth, unfolded in his mind. The minds of the dancer and the singer became one. Sai's tears shone in the lamplight on her white face while she beat the hand drum. She played it with more skill and intensity than usual that morning.

Nobunaga threw down his fan and called out, "It's death!" As he donned his armor he said, "Sai, if you hear that I've been killed, set the castle on fire immediately. Burn it until there's nothing left to see."

She put down the drum, and with her palms together on the floor, she replied, "Yes, my lord," without raising her head.

"Nagato! Blow the conch!" Nobunaga turned toward the inner citadel, where his lovely daughters lived, then to the mortuary tablets of his ancestors. "Farewell," he said with intense emotion. The he fastened the cords of his helmet and ran out.

The conch calling the troops to battle sounded in the quiet of the predawn darkness. The light of tiny stars shone brilliantiy through the rifts in the clouds.

"Lord Nobunaga is going to war!" Word was carried by an attendant, surprising the samurai who ran into him in their hurry.

The men who worked in the kitchens and the warriors who were too old to fight and would stay to guard the castle rushed to the gate to see their comrades off. To count them would have been a fair estimate of the men left in Kiyosu Castle—less than forty or fifty. This was how short of men they were, both inside the castle and riding with Nobunaga.

The horse that Nobunaga rode that day was called Tsukinowa. At the gate, the rustling of the young leaves could be heard in the dark wind, and lights flickered in the lanterns. Nobunaga leaped up onto the horse, into a mother-of-pearl saddle, and galloped to the main gate, the tassels of his armor and his long sword jangling as he rode.

Those staying behind in the castle forgot themselves and shouted as they prostrated themselves. Nobunaga spoke a few words of farewell to these old men who had served him for so many years. He felt sorry for these warriors and for his daughters, who were losing both a castle and a master. Without his being aware of it, Nobunaga's eyes moistened with tears.

In the time it had taken Nobunaga to shut his hot eyelids, Tsukinowa had already galloped like a squall out of the castle, into the dawn.

"My lord!"

"My lord!"

"Wait!"

Master and attendants were no more than six mounted men. And as usual, his retainers strained to keep from being left behind. Nobunaga did not look back. The enemy was to the east; their allies were also on the front lines. By the time they reached the place where they would die, the sun would already be high in the sky. As he galloped along, Nobunaga thought that, from the perspective of eternity, to be born in this province and to return to its soil meant nothing.

"Ho!"

"My lord!" someone suddenly called out from a crossroads in the town.

"Yoshinari?" he shouted back.

"Yes, my lord."

"And Katsuie?"

"Here, my lord!"

"You were quick!" Nobunaga praised them and asked, standing up in his stirrups, how many are you?"

"A hundred twenty mounted men under Mori Yoshinari, and eighty under Shibata Katsuie, so altogether about two hundred. We held back to accompany you."

Among the archers under Yoshinari was Mataemon, and Tokichiro was also there in the throng, at the head of thirty foot soldiers.

Nobunaga noticed him at once. Monkey's here, too. From horseback, he surveyed the hundred excited soldiers. I have followers like this, he thought, and his eyes brightened. To strike at the raging waves of an enemy forty thousand strong, his own soldiers were no more than a small ship or a handful of sand. But Nobunaga was bold enough to ask himself, I wonder if Yoshimoto has followers like this. He was proud, both as a general and as a man. Even if they were defeated, his men would not have died in vain. They were going to make their mark on this earth as they dug their own graves. "It's nearly dawn. Let's go!" Nobunaga pointed ahead.

When his horse galloped down the Atsuta Road to the east, the two hundred soldiers moved on like a cloud, stirring up the morning mist that stood as high as the eaves of the houses on both sides of the road. There was neither order nor rank. It was every man for himself. Ordinarily, when the lord of a province went to war, the commoners all stopped their work, swept the fronts of the houses, and saw the troops off. The soldiers marched by, displaying their banners and standards. The commander himself showed off his authority and power. And they marched to the battlefield, six steps to the drumbeat, with all the splendor and power that the province could muster. But Nobunaga was completely indifferent to such empty posturing. They dashed ahead so quickly that they could not fall into orderly ranks.

They were going to fight to the death. With an attitude that seemed to shout, "Whoever is coming, come on!" Nobunaga took the lead. There were no stragglers. On the contrary, as they advanced, their numbers swelled. As the call to arms had been sudden, those who were not ready in time now rushed to join them from the side streets and alleys, or caught up with them from behind.

The sounds of their footsteps and voices awoke those who still slept through the early hours of the dawn. Along the road, farmers, merchants, and artisans opened their doors, and sleepy-eyed people yelled out, "A battle!"

They may have guessed later that the man who had galloped in the lead in the morning mist was their lord, Oda Nobunaga. But nobody saw now.

"Nagato! Nagato!" Nobunaga turned in the saddle, but Nagato was not there; he was about fifty yards behind in the melee. Those who were coming up behind—their horses neck-and-neck—were Katsuie and Yoshinari. More men had joined them at the entrance of Atsuta.

"Katsuie!" Nobunaga yelled. "We'll see the great gate of the shrine soon. Stop the troops out in front. Even I am not going to go without saying a prayer." Almost as he spoke, he pulled up to the great gate. He jumped nimbly to the ground, and the waiting head priest, with some twenty attendants, rushed forward and took the reins of his horse.

"Thank you for coming out to meet me. I've come to say a prayer." The head priest led the way. The approach to the shrine, lined with cryptomeria trees, was damp with lit­tle droplets of mist. The head priest stood by the sacred spring, and invited Nobunaga to purify himself. Nobunaga took the cypress-wood ladle, washed his hands, and rinsed his mouth. Then he took one more ladleful and drank it down in one gulp.

"Look! A good omen!" Nobunaga looked up and spoke loudly enough for his troops to hear him. He pointed to the sky. Dawn had finally broken. The branches of an old cryptomeria tree had taken a reddish hue from the morning sun, and a flock of crows was cawing loudly. "The sacred crows!" The samurai around Nobunaga looked up with him.

In the meantime the head priest, also in full armor, had climbed to the holy of holies. Nobunaga sat on a mat. The priest brought sake on a small wooden stand and served it in an unglazed earthenware cup. Nobunaga drained the cup, clapped his hands loudly, and said his prayer to the gods. His men bowed their heads low, closing their eyes as they prayed, so that their hearts could become mirrors that would reflect the images of the gods.

By the time Nobunaga left Atsuta Shrine, the soldiers who had been running up to join him had swelled the number of his army to nearly a thousand. Nobunaga left the shrine by its southern gate and remounted his horse. Nobunaga had come to Atsuta like a gale, but leaving now, he slowed to a much more leisurely pace. He swayed as he rode sidesaddle, with his hands holding the front and rear rings of the saddle.

Dawn had already broken, and the villagers of Atsuta, including women and children, stood in front of their houses and at the crossroads to look, drawn by the sound of the horses' hooves that raced one another for first place.

When they realized it was Nobunaga, they all looked amazed and whispered among themselves:

"Is he really going into battle?"

"Can this be true?"

"They haven't got one chance in ten thousand."

He had ridden from Kiyosu to Atsuta at a single stretch, so he was now saddlesore. Riding sidesaddle and leaning back a little, he hummed to himself.

When the army came to the crossroads on the outskirts of the town, it suddenly stopped. Black smoke was rising in two places from the direction of Marune and Washizu. A sad look appeared on Nobunaga's face. The two fortresses must have fallen. He took a deep breath, then spoke quickly to his retainers. "We won't follow the coastal road. The morning tide is high right now, so it will be useless to take that route. We'll take the hill road to the fortress at Tange." Dismounting, he said to a retainer, "Call the headmen of Atsuta."

The man turned to the crowd lining the roads and yelled loudly enough to be heard, Soldiers were sent to search for the headmen. Before long, two of them were brought be­fore Nobunaga.

"You've seen me quite often, so I'm not much of a rarity. But today I'm going to treat you to a rare sight: the head with blackened teeth of the lord of Suruga. You've never seen it, but you will see it today, because you were born in my province of Owari. Just go up to some high place and watch this great battle.

"Go around Atsuta and tell the people to collect festival banners and streamers and to make them look like flags and banners to the enemy. Put red and white or any color cloth on tree branches and on the tops of hills, and fill the sky with fluttering streamers. Do you understand?"

When the horses had advanced about half a league and he turned to look, innumerable flags and banners were fluttering all over Atsuta. It looked as though a huge army from Kiyosu had set out as far as the town and was resting there.

It was oppressively hot, hotter than it had been for many years in early summer—as the old men would later recall. The sun climbed high and the horses trampled earth that had not seen rain for ten days. The army was covered with dust as it marched.

Life or death—along with his reins, Nobunaga held them in his hands as he galloped onward. To the soldiers, Nobunaga looked either like a gallant herald of death or a leader of hope for a greater life. Regardless of which view one took, or the final result, belief in its leader ran through the entire army as it followed behind this man without complaint.

To the death. To the death. To the death.

This was the only thing in Tokichiro's mind, too. Even if he hadn't wanted to go forward, since everyone around him was marching along, it was like being swallowed up in billowing waves, and there was no time for his feet to stop. Even if it wasn't of much account, he was the leader of thirty foot soldiers and so could not indulge in complaining, matter how bad the situation.

To the death. To the death.

The stipends of the foot soldiers were so low that they were just enough to allow their families to survive. And the soundless, desperate voice that panted in their bellies echoed in Tokichiro's belly. Could people really just toss their lives away like this? Certainly, that seemed to be what was happening, and it suddenly struck Tokichiro that he was serving an absurd general. He had had such great expectations when he had first sought out Nobunaga, and now the man seemed to be sending his soldiers—Tokichiro among them— flying bravely to their deaths. He thought of all the things he still wanted to do in this world, and of his mother in Nakamura.

These things flitted across Tokichiro's mind, but they came and were gone in an instant. The sound of a thousand pairs of marching feet and the clanging of sun-scorched armor seemed to say, Die! Die!

The soldier's faces were burned by the sun, drenched in sweat, and covered with dust.  And although it was possible to detect Tokichiro's carefree character, even in this desperate situation, today he was thinking along with the others, Fight! To the death!

The soldiers advanced, ready to sacrifice their lives. As they marched over one hill after another, they drew closer to the swirling clouds of smoke they had seen earlier.

The vanguard had just reached the top of a hill when a blood-smeared, wounded man stumbled toward them, screaming something they couldn't quite hear.

He was a retainer of Sakuma Daigaku who had escaped from Marune. Taken before

Nobunaga and breathing heavily because of his wounds, he pulled himself together and made his report: "Lord Sakuma met a manly death in the flames set on all sides by the enemy, and Lord Iio was struck down gloriously during the battle at Washizu. I'm ashamed to be the last one alive, but I escaped on the order of Lord Sakuma in order to inform you of what has happened. As I fled, I could hear the enemy's victory shouts, loud enough to shake heaven and earth. And nothing remains in Marune and Washizu but the enemy army."

After he had heard the report, Nobunaga called out, "Tohachiro." Maeda Tohachiro was still a boy and so was almost buried in the great crowd of warriors. When Nobunaga called him, he answered with a loud shout and approached Nobunaga with high-spirited manliness.

"Yes, my lord?"

"Tohachiro, give me my rosary."

Tohachiro had taken great care not to drop his master's rosary. He had wrapped it in a cloth and secured it tightly across his armor. Now he quickly untied it and held it up to Nobunaga. Nobunaga took the rosary and hung it from his own shoulder, across his chest. It was made of large silver-colored beads, and it set off his light green death robe even more magnificently.

"Ah, how sad. Both Iio and Sakuma have gone on to the next world. How I wish they could have seen my exploits." Nobunaga straightened himself in the saddle and put his hands together in prayer.

The black smoke from Washizu and Marune scorched the sky like the smoke of a funeral pyre. The men watched in silence. Nobunaga stared into the distance for a moment, then suddenly turned, struck the seat of his saddle, and yelled out almost in ecstasy, "Today is the nineteenth. This day will be the anniversary of my death, as well as your own. Your stipends have been low, and you're meeting your fate as warriors today without ever having known good luck. This must be the destiny of those who serve me. But those who will follow me just one more step will be giving me their lives. Those who still have some attachment to this life may leave without shame."

The commanders and soldiers responded with one voice. "Never! Should our lord die alone?"

Nobunaga went on, "Then will you all give your lives to a fool like me?"

“You don't even have to ask," replied one of the generals.

Nobunaga gave his horse one great stroke with his whip. "Forward! The Imagawa are just ahead!" He was riding at the head of his troops, but he was hidden by the dust of the entire army galloping forward. In the dust, the indistinct form of the mounted man seemed somehow divine.

The road went through a ravine and over a low pass. As it approached the provincial border, the lay of the land became uneven.

"There it is!"

“It’s Tange. The fortress of Tange," the soldiers said to one another as they gasped for breath. The fortresses of Marune and Washizu had already fallen, so they had been wor­ried about the fate of Tange, too. Now their eyes brightened. Tange was still standing, its defenders still alive.

Nobunaga rode up to the fortress and said to its commander, "The defense of this little place is already useless, so we may as well let the enemy have it. The hope of our army lies elsewhere."

The garrison of Tange joined Nobunaga's advancing army, and they hurried without rest toward the fortress at Zenshoji. As soon as the garrison realized that Nobunaga was coming, they raised a shout. But it was hardly a cheer; it was more like crying and pathetic trembling.

"He's come!"

"Lord Nobunaga!"

Nobunaga was their lord, but not all of them knew what kind of general he was. It was beyond their expectations that Nobunaga himself had suddenly come to this isolated outpost where they had all just resolved to die. Now all of them had been given new life, and they were ready to die in front of his standard. At the same time Sassa Narimasa, who had started out in the direction of Hoshizaki and had collected a force of over three hundred mounted men, fell in with Nobunaga.

Nobunaga called the soldiers together and ordered a head count. That morning, when they had ridden out of the castle, lord and followers were a mere six or seven. Now the army numbered close to three thousand. It was announced publicly that there were at least five thousand men. Nobunaga considered the fact that this was really the entire army of his domain, which covered half the province of Owari. With neither garrisons nor reserves, these men made up the entire strength of the Oda.

A satisfied smile came to his lips. The forty thousand men of the Imagawa forces were now within hailing distance, and to spy on their lineup and morale, the Oda troops concealled their flags and banners and viewed the situation from the edge of the mountain.

Asano Mataemon's corps had gathered together on the northern slope, a little apart from the main army. Although they were archers, the battle today would not call for bows and arrows, so his men carried spears. The small group of thirty foot soldiers led by Tokichiro was also with them, and when the commander ordered the men to rest, Tokichiro passed on the order to his own men.

They responded by taking deep breaths and falling onto the grass in the mountain's de.

Tokichiro rubbed his sweaty face with a dirty towel. "Hey! Would somebody hold my spear?" His subordinates had just sat down, but one of them yelled, "Yes, sir," and got up and took the spear. Then, when Tokichiro started to walk off, the man followed from behind.

"You don't have to come."

"Where are you going, sir?"

"I don't need any help. I'm going to relieve myself, and it's not going to smell too good." With a laugh, he disappeared into some shrubbery along the narrow cliff road, Perhaps thinking that Tokichiro had been joking, his subordinate stood for a while and gazed in the direction in which he had gone.

Tokichiro went a little way down the southern slope, looking around until he found a suittable spot. He untied his bellyband and squatted down. The troops had left so fast that morning that he had barely had enough time to put on his armor, and had certainly had

no time to go to relieve himself. And even while they hurried from Kiyosu to Atsuta and Tange, if they stopped somewhere to rest, his first thoughts were to relieve himself just like in everyday life. Thus it was now very satisfying to be taking care of his bodily needs under a clear blue sky.

But even here, the rules of the battlefield allowed for no negligence. Very often, when armies confronted each other, enemy patrols would travel far from their camps, and when they discovered someone emptying his bowels, they would shoot him half in fun. So Tokichiro was unable to be completely at peace while gazing up at the sky. Looking to­ward the foot of the mountain, he could see that the river meandered like a sash, flowing to the sea at the Chita Peninsula. He could also see the single white road that wound its way south along the river's eastern bank.

Washizu was in the mountainous area north of the road and had probably already burned to the ground. In the fields and villages he could see the many little antike forms of men and horses. "There's certainly a lot of them."

It might have been because Tokichiro was a part of the army of a small province, but when he saw the scale of the enemy, the clichйed phrase "like the clouds and mist" natu­rally came to mind. And when he considered that this army was just one part of the enemy force, he was not surprised that Nobunaga had resolved to die. But no, this wasn't just another man's affair. Emptying his bowels was probably the last thing he was going to do in this world.

Men are strange. I wonder if I'll still be alive tomorrow? While he was brooding on such things, Tokichiro was suddenly aware that someone was coming up the mountain from the marsh below.

The enemy? Being close to a battlefield, this was an intuitive, almost instinctive reaction, and now he wondered if this might be an enemy scout, trying to get behind Nobunaga's headquarters. As Tokichiro quickly tied his sash and stood up, the face of the man who had scrambled up from the marsh suddenly met his own, and the two men stood staring straight at each other.

"Tokichiro!"

"Inuchiyo!"

"What are you doing here?"

"What are you doing?"

"I heard that Lord Nobunaga had marched out and is resolved to die, and I've come to die with him."

"I'm glad you came." With a lump in his throat, Tokichiro extended his hand to his old friend. Countless emotions were enveloped within the men's clasped hands. Inuchiyo's armor was splendid. From the lacquered feathering to the lacing, it was new and glittered brilliantly. A banner with a plum-blossom crest was attached to his back.

"You cut a fine figure," Tokichiro said with admiration. Suddenly, he fhought about Nene, whom he had left behind. But he forced his thoughts to return to Inuchiyo. "Where were you until now?"

"I was waiting for the right time."

“When Lord Nobunaga banished you, didn't you think about serving another clan?"

“No, my loyalty has always been undivided. Even after I was banished, I felt that Lord

Nobunaga's punishment made me more human, and I'm thankful for it."

Tears filled Tokichiro's eyes. Inuchiyo knew that the battle today was going to be the glorious death of the entire Oda clan, and it made Tokichiro unbearably happy that his friend had come here, wanting to die with his former lord.

"I understand. Look, Inuchiyo, this is the first time Lord Nobunaga has rested today.  Now's the time. Come on."

"Wait, Tokichiro. I won't go into Lord Nobunaga's presence."

"Why not?"

"It wasn't my intention to come here at a time when Lord Nobunaga might withhold his anger from any soldier, and I would hate his retainers to see me in that light."

"What are you saying? Everybody here is going to die. Didn't you come here wanting to die in front of your lord's standard?"

"That's right."

"Then don't worry. Gossip is for the living."

"No, it's better if I die without saying anything. And that is my deepest ambition, whether Lord Nobunaga forgives me or not. Tokichiro?"

"Yes?"

"Will you hide me in your group for a little while?"

'That's no trouble at all, but my command is only thirty men in the foot soldiers. Youre going to stand out."

“I’ll go like this." He covered his helmet with something that looked like a horse blanket, and slipped into Tokichiro's group of soldiers. If he stood on tiptoe, he could see Nobunaga clearly. And he could hear his high-pitched voice come and go with the wind.

Like a low-flying bird, a lone rider was coming toward Nobunaga from an unexpected direction. Nobunaga saw the man before anyone else did, and watched him in silence. As the entire army looked in his direction, the man rode closer and closer.

'What is it? Do you have news?"

'The main body of the Imagawa, the troops under Yoshimoto and his generals, has just now  changed its direction and is headed for Okehazama!"

What?" Nobunaga asked with glittering eyes. "Well, then, Yoshimoto has taken the road to Okehazama without turning toward Odaka?"

Before he could finish, a shout rose: "Look! There's another!"

One rider, then two—scouts for Nobunaga's forces. The men held their breaths as the riders whipped their horses toward the camp. Adding to the previous report, the scouts informed Nobunaga of the continuing turn of events.

“The main force of the Imagawa turned on the road to Okehazama, but they've just now spread out over an area slightly above Dengakuhazama, a little to the south of Okehazama. They've moved their headquarters, and it seems as though they're resting their troops with Lord Yoshimoto right in the center."

Nobunaga fell silent for an instant, his eyes as clear as the blade of a sword. Death. He had only thought of death. With intensity, in the absolute dark, in self-abandonment. His only desire had been to die in a manly way. He had ridden furiously from dawn until the sun was high in the sky. Now, suddenly, like a single ray of light breaking through the clouds, the possibility of victory flashed across his mind.

If things went well…

The truth was that, up to that point, he had not believed in victory, and victory was the only thing a warrior fought for.

Fragments of thoughts appear and disappear in the human mind, like an endless stream of tiny bubbles, so that one's life is carved out instant by instant. Right up to the point of his death, a man's words and actions are decided by this chain of fragments. Ideas that can destroy a man. A day in a man's life is constructed according to whether he accepts or rejects these flashes of inspiration.

In ordinary situations, there is time for a mature deliberation over choices, but a man's moment of destiny comes without warning. When the crisis breaks, should he go to the right or to the left? Nobunaga was now at that fork in the road and unconsciously drew the straw of fate.

Clearly his character and training played their part at the crucial moment and kept him from taking the wrong direction. His lips were tightly shut. Yet there was something he wanted to say.

Suddenly a retainer shouted, "My lord, now is the time! Yoshimoto thinks he knows our strength after capturing Washizu and Marune. He's probably filled with pride about his army's early success. He's glorying in his victory and letting his fighting spirit slide. This is the right moment. If we launch a surprise attack on Yoshimoto's headquarters, our victory is certain."

Nobunaga joined in the man's high-strung voice. "That's it!" he said, slapping his saddle. "That's exactly what we're going to do. I'm going to have Yoshimoto's head. Dengakuhazama is straight to the east."

The generals, however, were confused and filled with misgivings when they heard the scouts' reports, and they tried to check Nobunaga's instinctive dash forward.

But Nobunaga would not listen. "You decrepit old men! What are you dithering about now? All you have to do is follow me. If I walk into the fire, you walk into it too. If I'm ready to walk into the water, then you'll follow me there. If you won't, stay on the sidelines and watch me." Leaving them with a single, cold laugh, Nobunaga gracefully raised his horse's head and galloped to the front line of his army.

* * *

Noon. Not a single bird could be heard in the hushed mountains. The wind had died, and the burning sun seemed to scorch everything under the sky. The leaves were either tightly closed or withered like dried tobacco.

“Over there!" Leading a small group of men, a warrior was running up a grassy slope.

"Put up the curtain."

In one area, soldiers were clearing away the undergrowth with scythes; others un­furled curtains and tied them to the branches of the nearby pines and silk trees. In mo­ments they had put together a curtained enclosure that would serve as Yoshimoto's temporary headquarters.

“Whew! It's scorching!" said one of the men.

"They say it doesn't often get this hot!"

The men wiped away their sweat.

'Look, the sweat's pouring off me. Even the leather and metal of my armor are too hot to touch."

'If I took off my armor and let a little breeze in I'd feel better. But I think the general staff will be here soon."

'Well, let's take just a little rest." There were few trees on the grass-covered hill, so the soldiers sat down together under the shade of a large camphor tree. After a short rest, they felt cooler.

The hill of Dengakuhazama was lower than the surrounding mountains, no more than a knoll in the center of a circular valley. From time to time, the white undersides of the leaves all over the hill would suddenly be rustled by a cool summer breeze descending from Taishigadake.

One of the soldiers looked up to the sky while applying ointment to his blistered toes, and muttered something to himself.

“What's the matter?" asked another soldier.

“Look."

“At what?"

'Storm clouds are gathering. It'll probably rain in the evening."

“A good rain would be nice. But I tell you, for those of us who do nothing but repair roads and carry the baggage, rain can be worse than an attack by the enemy. I hope it'll just be a light shower."

The wind incessantly ruffled the curtained enclosure they had just set up. The officer in charge looked around and told his men, "Well, let's get up. His Lordship will be staying at Odaka Castle tonight. He's deliberately led the enemy into thinking that he'll be advancing from Kutsukake to Odaka, but with this shortcut through Okehazama, he plans to arrive this evening. It's our job to go on ahead and look for problems with the bridges, cliffs, and gullies along the way. Well, let's go!"

The voices and men were gone, and the mountain returned to its former peace. The grasshoppers were making their shrill cries. But not long afterward, horses were heard in the distance. No conches were blown, no drums beaten, and they passed between the mountain peaks as quietly as possible. Yet despite their efforts, there was no way to conceal the dust and clatter of so many horses. The sound of the horses' hooves on the stones and roots quickly filled the air, and the main forces of the great Imagawa Yoshimoto soon buried the grassy knoll and the surroundings of Dengakuhazama in soldiers, horses, banners, and curtained enclosures.

Yoshimoto was sweating more than anyone else. He had grown accustomed to the good life and, after passing the age of forty, had become grotesquely fat. It was obvious that he found these maneuvers a trial. Over his corpulent body with its long torso he wore a red brocade kimono and a white breastplate. His outsized helmet had five neckplates and was crowned with eight dragons. In addition, he wore the long sword called Matsukurago that had been in the Imagawa family for generations, a short sword—also the work of a famous swordsmith—gloves, shin guards, and boots. The entire outfit probably weighed more than eighty pounds, and lacked the smallest vent where the breeze might enter.

Covered with sweat, Yoshimoto rode on through the blazing heat, as the sun scorched even the leather and the lacquered feathering on his armor. Finally he arrived at Dengakuhazama.

"What is this place called?" Yoshimoto asked as soon as he was seated behind his headquarters' curtain. All around him were the men charged with his protection: atten­dants, generals, senior retainers, physicians, and others.

One of the generals replied, "This is Dengakuhazama. It's about half a league from Okehazama."

Yoshimoto nodded and handed his helmet to an attendant. After a page unlaced his armor, he stepped out of his sweat-soaked undergarments and into a spotlessly clean white robe. A gentle breeze filtered in. How refreshing, Yoshimoto thought.

When the waistband of his armor had been retied, his camp stool was moved to a leopard-skin mat spread out on the grassy knoll. The extravagant camp supplies that followed him everywhere were now unpacked.

"What's that sound?" Yoshimoto took a gulp of tea, startled by something that sounded like a cannon's roar.

His attendants also pricked up their ears. One of them raised an edge of the curtain and looked around outside. He was struck by a sight of awesome beauty: the scorching sun toyed with the shredded clouds and painted a maelstrom of light in the sky.

"Distant thunder. Just the sound of distant thunder," the retainer reported.

"Thunder?" Yoshimoto forced a smile, lightly patting his lower back with his left hand. His attendants noticed this but purposely refrained from asking the reason. That morning, when they had departed from the castle at Kutsukake, Yoshimoto had fallen off his horse. To inquire about his injury yet again would only have embarrassed Yoshimoto further.

Something was stirring. Suddenly there seemed to be a clamorous rush of horses and men from the foot of the hill, coming in the direction of the enclosure. Yoshimoto immediately turned to one of his retainers, asking anxiously, "What is it?"

Without waiting for his order to go and look, two or three men dashed outside the curtain, letting in the wind. This time it was not the sound of distant thunder. The clatter of horses' hooves and men's footsteps had already reached the top of the hill. It was a corps of about two hundred men, carrying in an enormous number of enemy heads taken at Narumi—graphic demonstration of how the war was going.

The heads were now brought in for Yoshimoto's inspection.

"The heads of the Oda samurai from Narumi. Line them up! Let's take a look!" Yoshimoto was in good spirits. "Set up my camp stool!"

Adjusting his position and holding his fan over his face, he examined the seventy-odd heads being submitted to him one after another. When Yoshimoto had finished his inspection, he exclaimed, "What a bloody mess!" and turned away, ordering the curtain to be closed. Scattered rain clouds filled the clear noon sky. "Well, well. A cool breeze is coming up the ravine. It'll soon be noon, won't it?"

“No, my lord, it's already past the Hour of the Horse," answered an attendant.

“No wonder I'm hungry. Get lunch ready, and let the troops eat and rest."

An attendant went outside to transmit his orders. Inside the enclosure, his generals,

pages, and cooks moved about, but the atmosphere was one of calm. Now and again, the representatives from local shrines, temples, and villages came to present sake and local delicacies.

Yoshimoto studied these people from afar, and decided, "We'll reward them when we reurn from the capital."

When the local people had gone, Yoshimoto ordered sake and made himself comfotable on the leopard-skin mat. The commanders outside the curtain each presented themselves, congratulating him on his victory at Narumi, which had followed the capture Marune and Washizu.

"You're probably all unhappy with the little bit of resistance we've encountered so far," Yoshimoto said with a playful look on his face as he offered cups of sake to all his retainers and attendants. He was becoming progressively more and more expansive.

"It's Your Lordship's power that has brought us to this happy situation. But as Your Lordship has said, if we continue on like this, with no enemy to fight, our soldiers will complain that all our discipline and training were for nothing."

"Have patience. Tomorrow night we'll take Kiyosu Castle, and no matter how badly beaten these Oda are, I imagine they have some fight left in them yet. Each of you will have his share of daring exploits."

"Well then, Your Lordship can stay in Kiyosu for two or three days, and will be able to enjoy both moon-viewing and entertainment."

At some point the sun vanished behind the clouds, but with all the sake, no one noticed the darkening of the sky. As a gust of wind lifted the edge of the curtain, rain started fall in big drops, and intermittent thunder rumbled in the distance. But Yoshimoto and his generals were laughing and talking, arguing about who would be first to reach Kiyosu Castle the next day, and making fun of Nobunaga.

While Yoshimoto was deriding his enemy in his headquarters, Nobunaga was charging up the pathless slopes of Taishigadake. He was already nearing Yoshimoto's headdquarters.

Taishigadake was neither particularly high nor steep, but its slopes were covered with oaks, zelkovas, maples, and sumacs. It was ordinarily frequented only by woodcutters, so to get a number of horses and men through quickly now, they had to cut down trees, trample down the undergrowth, leap over precipices, and splash through streams.

Nobunaga shouted to his men, "If you fall off your horse, leave it! If your banners get caught in the branches, let them go! Just hurry! The essential thing is to get to Yoshimoto's headquarters and to take his head. It's best to travel light. Carry no baggage at all! Just get into the enemy ranks and run them through. Don't take the time to cut every head you've taken. Cut them down and go on to the next, while there is life in your body.  You don't have to perform heroic deeds. Showy exploits have no value at all. Fight selflessly before me today, and you will be a true Oda warrior!"

The soldiers listened to these words as though they were listening to the thunder before the storm. The afternoon sky had been completely transformed, and now looked like dark swirls of ink. The wind rose up from the layers of clouds, from the valley, from the

marsh, from the roots of trees, and blew into the darkness.

"We're almost there! Dengakuhazama is on the far side of that mountain and through a marsh. Are you ready to die? If you fall behind, you'll leave only shame to your descen­dants until the end of time!"

The main body of Nobunaga's forces did not advance in formation. Some soldiers were late in arriving, while others advanced in loose ranks. Their hearts, however, were drawn on by his voice.

Nobunaga had yelled himself hoarse, and it was difficult for the men to catch what he was saying. But that was no longer necessary. It was enough for them to know that he was leading them. Meanwhile, a driving rain had begun to fall like shining spearheads. The raindrops were big enough to hurt when they hit the men's cheeks and noses. This was accompanied by a gale that tore away the leaves, so that they hardly knew what was strik­ing their faces.

Suddenly a thunderbolt nearly rent the mountain in half. For an instant, heaven and earth were one color—smoky white in the downpour. When the rain let up, muddy streams and waterfalls flowed all over the marshes and slopes.

"There it is!" Tokichiro yelled. He turned and pointed past his foot soldiers, who were blinking raindrops off their eyelashes, to the Imagawa camp. The enemy's curtained enclosures seemed innumerable, all of them soaked by the rain. Before them was the marsh. Beyond that, the slope of Dengakuhazama.

When they looked again, Tokichiro's men could see the helmeted and armored fig­ures of their allies already rushing in. They brandished swords, spears, and halberds. No­bunaga had said that the advantage was in traveling light, and many of the men had discarded their helmets, and thrown away their banners.

Threading their way through the trees, slipping over the grassy ridges, they immediately set upon the enemy's enclosures. Now and again, blue-green lightning flashed in the sky, and the white rain and black wind wrapped the world in darkness.

Yelling at his men, Tokichiro dashed through the marsh and started up the hill. They slipped and fell, but kept up with him. Rather than saying that they charged and leaped into the fray, it would be truer to say that Tokichiro's little unit was swallowed whole by the battle.

Laughter reverberated around Yoshimoto's headquarters as the thunder pealed. Even when the wind freshened, the stones that held down the curtains of the enclosure stayed put.

"This should blow away the heat!" they joked, and still they drank. But they were in the field and planned to advance as far as Odaka by evening, so no one exceeded his limit.

About then, it was announced that lunch was ready. The generals ordered the food to be brought to Yoshimoto, and as they emptied their cups, rice containers and large soup pots were placed before them. At the same time, the rain started to fall in noisy drops, striking the pots, rice containers, straw mats, and armor.

Finally noticing the ominous look of the sky, they began to move their mats. In the enclosure stood a large camphor tree with a trunk so huge it would have taken three men

To circle it with outstretched arms. Yoshimoto stood under the tree, sheltered from the rain. The others hurried behind him, bringing his mats and bowls.

The swaying of the huge tree shook the ground, and its branches howled in the violent wind. As both brown and green leaves flew up like dust and blew against the men's armor, the smoke from the cooking fires was blown close along the ground, blinding and choking Yoshimoto and his generals.

'Please endure this for just a moment. We're putting up a rain cover now." One of the generals called loudly for soldiers, but there was no response. In the bleached white spray of the rain and the roar of the trees, his voice was carried off into the void, and no reply came. Only the loud snapping of firewood could be heard from the kitchen enclosure, from which smoke spewed out furiously.

“Call the commander of the foot soldiers!" As one of the generals ran out into the piercing rain, a strange sound welled up from the surrounding area. It was a moan that seemed to come from the earth itself—the violent clash of one forged weapon against another. And the storm did not content itself with the surface of Yoshimoto's skin; the confusion now blew fiercely into his mind as well.

“What is it? What's going on?" Yoshimoto and his generals seemed utterly bewildered.  Have we been betrayed? Are the men fighting among themselves?" Still not realizing what was going on, the samurai and generals at Yoshimoto's side intantly drew around him like a protective wall.

“What is it?" they yelled. But the Oda forces had already surged into the camp like a tide, and were now running right outside the curtain.

“The enemy!"

“The Oda!"

Spears clashed, and embers of firewood flew above the confused cries of struggling men. Yoshimoto, still standing under the huge camphor tree, seemed to have lost his ability tospeak. He chewed his lip with his black teeth, apparently unable to believe what was happening right before his eyes. Yoshimoto's generals stood around him with grim faces, yelling back and forth.

“Is this a rebellion?"

“Are these men rebels?"

There was no answer except for cries, and despite the alarmed shouts coming from all over the camp, they could not believe it was the enemy attacking. But they could not doubt their own ears for long. The Oda warriors appeared right in front of them, their harsh war cries in the strange Owari dialect piercing the ears of Yoshimoto's retainers. Two or three of the enemy rushed in their direction.

“Hey! Lord of Suruga!"

When they saw the Oda men coming, screaming like demons, jumping and slipping over the mud, brandishing spears and halberds, they were finally shocked into recognizing the true situation,

“The Oda!"

“A surprise attack!"

The confusion was more terrible than if they had been attacked at night. They had underestimated Nobunaga. It was lunchtime. This, in addition to the violent storm, had

allowed the enemy to enter the camp completely undetected. But it was their own ad­vance guard that had really put Yoshimoto's headquarters totally at ease.

The two generals detached to guard the headquarters were stationed less than a mile from the hill, but suddenly, and without warning from their own lookouts, the enemy was rushing in unchecked, right before the eyes of Yoshimoto and his generals.

From the very beginning, Nobunaga had avoided the camps of the vanguard. As they went through Taishigadake and straight to Dengakuhazama, Nobunaga himself bran­dished a spear and fought Yoshimoto's soldiers. Very likely the soldiers speared by Nobu­naga had had no idea who their adversary had been. Severely wounding two or three men as he advanced, Nobunaga galloped toward the curtained enclosure.

"The camphor tree!" Nobunaga yelled out as one of his men ran past him. "Don't let the lord of Suruga escape! He's probably in the enclosure under the big camphor tree!" Nobunaga had guessed instantly where Yoshimoto would be, just by looking at the layout of the camp.

"My lord!" In the confusion of the battle, Nobunaga nearly rode over one of his sol­diers kneeling in front of him, a bloody spear at his side.

"Who are you?"

"Maeda Inuchiyo, my lord."

"Inuchiyo? Well, get to work! Fight!"

The rain fell onto the muddy paths, and the wind swept along the earth. Branches of the camphor tree and surrounding pines snapped off and were sent crashing to the ground. Water dripped off the branches onto Yoshimoto's helmet.

"My lord, over here! This way." Four or five of Yoshimoto's retainers formed a protective ring around him and hurried him from one enclosure to the next, trying to avoid a disaster.

"Is the lord of Suruga in here?" The instant Yoshimoto had left, an Oda warrior brandishing a spear challenged one of the generals who had stayed behind.

"Come here, I'll give you a fight!" the general yelled, checking the soldier's spear with his own.

The intruder identified himself, breathing heavily, "I am Maeda Inuchiyo, retainer to Lord Nobunaga!" The general replied, giving his own name and rank. He lunged forward, but Inuchiyo stepped to the side, and the spear struck into the void.

Inuchiyo had his opening, but not enough time to pull back his long spear, and so he simply struck the man full on the head with the spear shaft. The bowl of the helmet rang like a gong, and the injured man crawled out into the rain on all fours. Just then, two more men yelled out their names. When Inuchiyo adjusted his stance, someone fell on his back. Inuchiyo tripped and stumbled over the corpse of a soldier.

“Kinoshita Tokichiro!" Somewhere his friend was identifying himself. Inuchiyo smiled, the wind and rain striking his cheeks. He was blinded by the mud. There was blood wherever he looked. The moment he had slipped and fallen, he had seen that there were neither enemies nor allies in the immediate vicinity. Corpses were piled on top of corpses, and the rain made little splashing sounds on their backs. His straw sandals were dyed crimson as he kicked his way through a river of blood. Where was the lord with blackened teeth? He wanted Yoshimoto's head.

The rain called. The wind called.

Inuchiyo was not alone in his quest. Kuwabara Jinnai, a ronin from Kai, dressed in armor from the waist down, brandishing a spear smeared with blood, ran around the camphor tree and yelled out in his hoarse voice, "I'm coming for the lord of Suruga! Where is this great General Yoshimoto?" A gust of wind lifted the edge of a curtain, light­ning flashed, and he saw a man wearing a red coat over his armor, and a crested helmet with eight dragons.

The furious voice rebuking his retainers might well be Yoshimoto's: "Never mind about me! This is an emergency! I don't need a lot of men around me. Chase an enemy who's come here to give you his head. Kill Nobunaga! Instead of protecting me, fight!" He was, after all, the commander of three armies and grasped the situation faster than any­one else. Now he was angry with the worthless commanders and warriors who ran aim­lessly around him, shouting unintelligibly.

Chastened, several of the soldiers went plodding up the muddy road. When they had passed Jinnai's hiding place, he lifted the soaked curtain with the tip of his spear to make sure the man was indeed Yoshimoto.

Yoshimoto was no longer there. The enclosure was empty. A large wooden bowl of rice had been overturned, and the white grains of rice were lying sodden in the rainwater. Other than that, there were only the embers of four or five sticks of smoldering firewood.

Jinnai could see that Yoshimoto had left quickly with only a few men, so now he went from enclosure to enclosure, looking for him. Most of the curtains had either been torn and had collapsed, or were stained with blood and trampled.

Yoshimoto must be trying to escape. Certainly he was not going to flee on foot. And if this was so, he must have hurried to wherever the horses were tethered. In a camp filled with so many curtains and fighting soldiers, however, it was not going to be easy to find out where the enemy kept the horses. And the horses were not just grazing quietly. Amid the rain, the clashing of swords, and the blood, the horses had panicked and several of them were galloping wildly around the camp.

Where could he be hiding? Jinnai stood holding his spear, letting the rainwater run down the bridge of his nose and into his parched throat. Suddenly a warrior who hadn't recognized him as the enemy was yanking an excited gray horse right in front of him.

Red tassels hung from a mother-of-pearl saddle with a gold-flecked lacquer border; purple and white reins were attached to a silver bit. This must be the steed of a general. Jinnai watched as the horse was led into a dark stand of pine trees. Inside the stand, a curtained enclosure had mostly collapsed, but the part that still stood flapped wildly in the wind and rain.

Jinnai leaped forward and lifted the curtain. There was Yoshimoto. A retainer had just told him that his horse was ready, and Yoshimoto was about to step outside.

"Lord of Suruga, my name is Kuwabara Jinnai. I fight for the Oda clan. I've come to take your head. Prepare to die!" Jinnai thrust at Yoshimoto's back as he called out his name, and the clash of spear and armor resounded in their ears. In a flash, Yoshimoto turned, and his sword split the shaft in half. Jinnai jumped back with a yell, only four feet of the shaft left in his hands.

Jinnai tossed the shaft away and screamed, "Coward! Would you show your back to

an adversary who has identified himself?"

Unsheathing his sword, Jinnai leaped toward Yoshimoto, only to be grabbed from behind by an Imagawa warrior. Throwing the man easily to the ground, he was attacked from the side by yet another enemy warrior. He tried to dodge the blow, but the first soldier had grabbed his ankle and prevented him from moving fast enough. The second soldier's sword cut Jinnai neatly in two.

"My lord! Please leave right away! Our men are confused and unable to control the enemy. A retreat is regrettable, but it's only for the present." The soldier's face was smeared with blood. The other soldier, completely covered with mud, jumped up, and the two of them urged Yoshimoto to leave.

"Now! Quickly! My lord!"

But then…

"I have come to see the great Yoshimoto. My name is Hattori Koheita, and I am the service of Lord Nobunaga." A huge man stood before them, an iron helmet with black braiding pulled over his eyebrows. Yoshimoto retreated a step as the man's large, red-shafted spear struck out with a whir.

The first soldier intercepted the thrust with his body and fell, pierced through, before he had time to swing his sword. The other man quickly jumped in the way, but he, too, was skewered by Koheita's spear, and crumpled onto his comrade's corpse.

"Wait! Where are you going!" The lightning-quick spear pursued Yoshimoto, who was now circling the trunk of a pine tree.

"Here I am!" His sword poised to strike, Yoshimoto glared fixedly at Koheita. Koheita's spear jabbed out and struck the side of Yoshimoto's armor. But the armor was well-tempered, and the wound was not deep, leaving Yoshimoto undaunted.

"Knave!" Yoshimoto yelled and sliced through the spear.

Koheita was resolute. Tossing away the shaft, he leaped forward. But Yoshimoto dropped to his knees and swung at Koheita's leg with his sword. His blade was an excellent one. Sparks flew from the chain-mail shin guard, and Koheita's kneecap was split open like a pomegranate, his shinbone protruding from the wound. Koheita fell backwards, and Yoshimoto fell forward, his crested helmet striking the ground.

Just as Yoshimoto raised his head, a man cried out, "I am Mori Shinsuke!"

Mori grabbed Yoshimoto's head from behind and the two men tumbled to the ground. As they grappled, Yoshimoto's breastplate was pulled forward, and blood spurted from the spear wound he had just received. Pinned underneath, Yoshimoto bit through the index finger of Mori's right hand. Even after his head had been cut off, Mori's white finger was still protruding from Yoshimoto's purple lips and elegantly blackened teeth.

*  *  *

Had they won or lost, Tokichiro asked himself, breathing hard.

“Hey! Where are we?" he yelled to anybody who might be within earshot, but nobody knew exactly where they were. Only about half of his men were still alive, and they were all in a daze.

The rain had let up and the wind had abated. The intense rays of the sun spilled

through the scattering clouds. When the storm had spent itself, the hell of Dengakuhazama faded away with the retreating lightning, and now nothing remained but the cries of the cicadas.

"Line up!" Tokichiro ordered.

The soldiers lined up as best they could. Counting his men, Tokichiro found that his command had been reduced from thirty to seventeen, four of whom he did not recognize at all.

"Whose unit are you from?" he asked one of the men.

"Toyama Jintaro's, sir. But when we were fighting at the western edge of the hill, I slipped over the bluff and lost my unit. Then I found your men chasing the enemy, so I fell in with them."

"All right. What about you?"

"It's the same with me, sir. I thought I was fighting alongside my own comrades, but when I looked around, I was here in Your Honor's group."

Tokichiro did not bother to question the others. It was probable that some of his men had been killed in battle, while others had got mixed up with other units. But it wasn't just the individual soldiers who had lost their bearings in the middle of the battle. Tokichiro's unit had become separated from the main body of the army and Mataemon's reg­iment, and he had no idea where he was.

"It looks like the battle is over," Tokichiro muttered as he led his men back the way they had come.

The muddy water running from the surrounding mountains into the marsh had increased since the sky had cleared. When he saw how many corpses were lying in the streams and piled up on the slopes, Tokichiro was filled with a sense of wonder that he was still alive.

"We must have won. Look! All the dead around here are Imagawa samurai." Tokichiro pointed here and there. From the way the enemy corpses were sprawled along the road, he could see the route the defeated army had taken.

His men, however, just grunted in their stupefied state, and were too tired even to sing a victory song.

They were only a few and they were lost. The battlefield was suddenly very quiet, and this could mean that Nobunaga's army had been completely wiped out. The fear that they might be surrounded by the enemy and massacred at any moment was very real.

Then they heard it. From Dengakuhazama rose three victory cheers that were loud enough to shake heaven and earth. Shouts in their own Owari dialect.

"We won! We won! Let's go!" Tokichiro ran ahead. The soldiers, who up until now had been barely conscious, somehow recovered completely. Not wanting to be left behind, they stumbled and tripped after Tokichiro toward the cheering.

Magomeyama was a low, circular hill a little beyond Dengakuhazama. A black mass of soldiers stained with blood, mud, and rain now covered the area from the hill to the village. The battle was over and the men had regrouped. The rain had stopped, the sun had come out, and now a hazy white steam rose from the closely packed assembly.

"Where's Master Asano's regiment?" Threading his way through the mass of warriors, Tokichiro rejoined his original regiment. Wherever he turned, he bumped and scraped

someone's bloody armor. Although he had fully intended to fight bravely, he now felt ashamed. Certainly he had done nothing to make people notice him.

When he found his regiment and stood among the press of soldiers, he finally realized that they had won. Looking out from the hill, it struck him as odd that the vanquished enemy was nowhere to be seen.

Still spattered with mud and blood, Nobunaga stood on the hillock. Just a few steps from his camp stool, a number of soldiers were digging a large hole. Each of the  enemy heads was inspected and then tossed into the hole. Nobunaga looked on, his  palms pressed together, while the warriors around him stood by in silence.

No one said a prayer. But this was the highest etiquette followed when warriors buried fellow warriors. The heads buried in the hole would serve as a lesson to those who were alive and would fight again. Even the head of the most insignificant enemy treated with the utmost solemnity.

With the mysterious boundary between life and death at his very feet, a samurai could not help thinking about what it meant to live as a warrior. Everyone stood reverently, hands joined in prayer. When the hole had been filled in and a mound built ovver it, they looked up to a beautiful rainbow that arched across a clear sky.

As the men stood looking at this scene, a party of scouts who had been reconnoitering the area around Odaka pulled into camp.

Tokugawa Ieyasu commanded Yoshimoto's vanguard in Odaka. Considering the  skill with which Ieyasu had demolished the fortresses of Washizu and Marune, Nobunaga could not afford to underestimate him.

"When the Tokugawa heard that Yoshimoto had been killed, the camp at Odaka seemed to have panicked. They sent out scouts a number of times, however, and as learned the facts, they quickly calmed down. At this point they are preparing to retreat to Mikawa by nightfall, and they don't seem to be inclined to fight."

Nobunaga listened to the reports and, in his own way, announced their triumphaal return. "Well, then," he said, "let's go home."

The sun had still not set, and now the rainbow, which had begun to fade, stood  out clearly once again. A single head was fastened to the side of Nobunaga's saddle, as a memento. It was, of course, the head of the great Imagawa Yoshimoto.

When they reached the gate of Atsuta Shrine, Nobunaga swung off his horse and went into the sanctum, while his officers and men pressed in as far as the central gate and prostrated themselves. A hand bell was ringing somewhere in the distance, and bonfires filled the forest of the shrine with a red glow.

Nobunaga presented a sacred horse to the shrine stable. This done, he was once again ready to hurry on his way. His armor had become increasingly heavy, and he was exhausted. Leaving the moonlit path to his horse, however, his spirits seemed as light as if he were wearing a thin summer kimono.

Compared with Atsuta, Kiyosu was in an uproar. Every door was festooned with lanterns, bonfires burned at the crossroads, and old folks, children, and even young girls stood excitedly in the streets, looking at the triumphant soldiers and shouting their congratulations.

Dense crowds pushed together at the roadside. Women watched to see if their

husbands were among the men marching solemnly toward the castle gate. Old people called out their sons' names, and girls searched for the faces of their sweethearts. But all of them raised a cheer when they caught sight of the mounted Nobunaga, silhou­etted against the night sky.

"Lord Nobunaga!"

Nobunaga meant more to them than their own children, husbands, and lovers.

"Take a look at the head of the great lord of the Imagawa!" Nobunaga announced to the crowd from horseback. "This is the souvenir I have brought back for you. From to­morrow on, the troubles at the border will be over. Be diligent and work hard. Work hard and enjoy yourselves!"

Once inside the castle, Nobunaga called for his lady-in-waiting, "Sai! Sai! Before any­thing else, a bath! And some rice gruel."

As he emerged from his bath, he proclaimed the rewards for more than one hundred twenty men who had fought in the battle that day. Even the deeds of the lowest-ranking soldiers had not escaped Nobunaga's eyes. Last of all he said, "Inuchiyo is granted permission to return." This news was transmitted to Inuchiyo that very night, for when the entire army had entered the castle gates, he alone had stopped outside, waiting for word from Nobunaga.

Tokichiro received no praise whatsoever. And, of course, he expected none. Nevertheless, he had received something far more precious than a stipend of a thousand kan: for the first time in his life, he had straddled the line between life and death, he had lived through a battle, and he had seen firsthand Nobunaga's grasp of human nature and his great capacity for leadership.

I have a good master, he thought. I'm the luckiest man alive, after Lord Nobunaga. From that time on, Tokichiro did not just look up to Nobunaga as his lord and master. He became Nobunaga's apprentice, studying his master's strong points and concentrating his whole mind on the task of improving himself.

The Go-between

For the last five or six days, Tokichiro had been truly bored. He had been ordered to accompany Nobunaga on a secret journey to a distant province and to make preparations for the trip. They were to leave within ten days, and until then he was to stay indoors Tokichiro sat around and waited.

He sat up and thought how strange it was for Nobunaga to be setting out on a journey. Where were they going?

Gazing at the tendrils of the morning glories on the fence, he suddenly thought of Nene. He had been ordered to go out as little as possible, but when the evening breeze picked up, he passed by the front of Nene's house. For some reason he had been hesitant to visit there recently, and whenever he met her parents, they looked right through him. So he simply walked past the house like any other passerby and returned home.

The morning glories were blooming also on the fence of Nene's house. The evening before, he had gotten a glimpse of her lighting a lamp, and had returned home as though he had achieved his purpose. Now he suddenly recalled that her profile had been whiter than the flowers on the fence.

The smoke from the firewood wafted through the house from the kitchen. Tokichiro bathed, put on a light hempen kimono, and, slipping on a pair of sandals, walked out through the garden gate. Just then a young messenger hailed him, handed him an offical summons. Tokichiro hurried back inside, changed quickly, and hurried to the residence of Hayashi Sado.

Sado handed him his orders in person:

Be at the residence of the farmer Doke Seijuro, on the western highway outs: Kiyosu, by the Hour of the Rabbit.

That was all. Nobunaga was traveling to a distant province incognito, and Tokichiro was one of his attendants. When he thought about it, he thought he understood Nobunaga's plans, even though he knew so little about them.

He realized that he would be separated from Nene for some time, and the desire to catch just a glimpse of her under the summer moon, there and then, welled up in his chest. It was his nature that nothing could stop him once he got an idea into his head, Tokichiro was a child of passion, and the uncontrollable passions and desires that dwelt in his heart dragged him to Nene's house. Then, just like a delinquent boy who peeps into lighted windows, Tokichiro peeked in from outside the fence.

Mataemon lived in the archers' district, and almost all of the people who passed through the neighborhood knew one another. Tokichiro was conscious of the footsteps of the passersby and was terrified that he was going to be discovered by Nene's parents. This cowardly spectacle was laughable. If Tokichiro himself had seen someone acting like this, he would have despised the man. But at that moment he did not have time to reflect on a man's dignity or reputation.

He would have been satisfied with a single glimpse through the fence of her profile and of whatever she was doing that evening. I'll bet she's already taken her bath and is putting on her makeup, he thought. Or could she be with her parents eating dinner?

Three times he went back and forth, trying to look as innocent as possible. It was evening, so few people were on the street. It would have been horribly embarrassing if somebody had called out his name just as he was peeping through the fence. No, worse than that, it could ruin the slim chance he had of marrying Nene. After all, his rival Inuchiyo had withdrawn from the competition, and after that, Mataemon had started to reconsider. For now, he should let things be. It seemed as though both Nene and her mother had made up their minds, but her father would not come to a decision so easily.

The smoke from the mosquito incense wafted by. The sound of someone putting out dishes came from the kitchen. It seemed that the evening meal had not yet been served. She's working hard, Tokichiro imagined. In the dim light of the kitchen, Tokichiro finally saw the woman he had determined would become his wife. The thought occurred to him that a woman like Nene would manage her household well.

Her mother called, and Nene's answer rang in his ears, even though he was crouching outside the fence, looking in. Tokichiro stepped aside. Somebody was coming up the street.

She works hard and she's gentle. Surely my mother would be happy with her. And Nene wouldn't mistreat my mother just because she's a farm woman. His love was transformed into lofty thoughts right through his passion. We'll endure poverty. We won't be caught by vanity. She'll help me from behind the scenes, look after me with devotion, and excuse my faults.

She was absolutely lovely. No one but this woman was going to be his wife; he was convinced of this. And with these thoughts his chest swelled and his heart beat powerfully. Looking up at the stars, he let out a deep sigh. When he finally came to himself, he realized that he had walked once around the block and was standing in front of Nene's ouse once again. Suddenly he heard Nene's voice just inside the fence, and as he looked irough the tendrils of the morning glories, he saw her white face.

She even carries water like a servant. And with those hands that play the koto. Tokichiro wanted to show his mother that his wife would be this kind of woman. The sooner the better. He could not get enough of looking through the fence. He could hear the sound of water being scooped up, but suddenly Nene turned in his direction without drawing up the bucket. She must have seen me, he thought, panicked. Just as this crossed his mind, Nene left the well and started to walk toward the rear gate. Tokichiro felt a heat in his chest so intense that it might have been fire.

When she opened the gate and looked around, Tokichiro was already running away without looking back. As he reached the corner at the first crossroads, he turned around. She stood outside the gate, with a puzzled look on her pale face. Tokichiro wondered if she wasn't angry with him, but at the same time he began to think about his departure the following morning. He was accompanying Lord Nobunaga, and he had been forbid­den from saying anything about the trip to others. This included Nene. Having caught a glimpse of her and knowing she was well, Tokichiro was his old self again, and he went home at full speed. When he fell asleep, his dreams were free from preoccupation.

Gonzo woke his master earlier than usual. Tokichiro splashed his face with water, ate his morning meal, and prepared himself for the trip.

"I'm off!" he announced, but did not tell his servant where he was going. And, a little before the agreed time, he arrived at Doke Seijuro's house.

"Hey, Monkey! Are you going today too?" asked a country samurai standing at Seijuro's gate.

"Inuchiyo!" Tokichiro looked at his friend with surprise. It was not just that he was surprised that Inuchiyo was coming, but that his appearance had been transformed; from the way he tied his hair right down to his leggings, Inuchiyo was dressed like a samurai right out of the backwoods.

"What is it all about?" Tokichiro asked.

"Everybody's already here. Hurry on in."

"What about you?"

"Me? I've been appointed gatekeeper for a while. I'll join you later."

Tokichiro lingered in the garden just inside the gate. For a moment he didn't know which path to take. Doke Seijuro's dwelling was an unusual old house, even to Tokichiro's eyes. He couldn't tell exactly how old it was. It seemed to be left over from an earlier age, when whole families had lived together in one large enclosure. A long, multiroomed house, smaller outhouses, gates within gates, and countless paths covered the entire grounds.

“Monkey! Over here!" Another country samurai was beckoning to him from a gate near the garden. He recognized the man as Ikeda Shonyu. Entering the garden, he found twenty or so retainers dressed up as country samurai. Tokichiro had also been informed of this plan, and he looked the most countrified of all.

A group of seventeen or eighteen mountain ascetics were resting around the edges of courtyard. They, too, were disguised Oda samurai. Nobunaga seemed to be in a small room on the far side of the courtyard. Naturally, he too was in disguise.

Tokichiro and the others were relaxed. No one asked any questions. No one knew. But they speculated.

"His Lordship is disguised as the son of a country samurai traveling with a few retainers. He's waiting for all of his attendants to arrive. He's probably going to a distant province, but I wonder if anyone knows where we're really going?"

"I haven't heard much, but when I was called to Hayashi Sado's residence, I overheard someone say something about the capital."

"The capital?" and everyone gulped.

Nothing could be more dangerous, and Nobunaga must have some secret plan in mind if he was going there. Unobserved by the others, Tokichiro nodded in agreement and went out into the vegetable garden.

A few days later, the group of country samurai that would accompany Nobunaga and the company of mountain ascetics, who would guard him at a distance, set out for the capital.

The first group posed as country samurai from the eastern provinces, who were going on a sightseeing trip to Kyoto. The men looked relaxed as they walked. They hid the fierce light that had shone in their eyes at Okehazama, and took on the rough looks and slow speech of those they pretended to be.

Their lodgings had been arranged by Doke in a house on the outskirts of the capital.  When he walked around Kyoto, Nobunaga always had the brim of his hat pulled down over his eyes, and he was dressed like a simple provincial. His attendants numbered four or five men at the most. If assassins had known who he was, he would have made an easy target.

There were days when he would let himself go completely and walk all day among the crowds and dust of Kyoto. And there were evenings when he would suddenly leave at some inopportune hour to call upon the mansions of courtiers and hold secret talks.

The young samurai understood neither the motives of these actions nor why he dared to take on this venture in the dangerous tumult of a country at war with itself. Tokichiro, of course, had no reason to understand such circumstances either. But he himself used the time for observation. The capital has changed, he thought. During the time he had wandered the country selling needles, he had often come here to buy supplies. Counting on his fingers, he figured it had only been about six or seven years before, but the conditions around the Imperial Palace had changed remarkably.

The shogunate still existed, but Ashikaga Yoshiteru, the thirteenth shogun, held the office in name only. Like the water in a deep pool, the culture and morale of the people stagnated. Everything had the feel of the end of an era. The real authority rested in the hands of his vice-governor-general, Miyoshi Nagayoshi, but he in turn had abdicated control in almost all areas to one of his retainers, Matsunaga Hisahide. This resulted in unsightly dissension and in an inefficient and tyrannical administration. The gossip of the common people was that Mastunaga's rule would soon collapse of its own accord.

What was the trend of the times? Nobody knew. The lights burned brightly every night, but the people were lost in the darkness. Tomorrow is tomorrow, they thought, and a directionless, helpless current flowed through their lives like a muddy stream.

If the administration of Miyoshi and Matsunaga was considered unreliable, what

about those provincial governors who had been appointed by the shogun? Men like Akamatsu, Toki, Kyogoku, Hosokawa, Uesugi, and Shiba all faced similar problems in their own provinces.

It was just at this point that Nobunaga made his secret trip to the capital. This was something that no other provincial warlord had dreamed of doing. Imagawa Yoshimoto had marched on Kyoto at the head of a great army. His ambition—to be granted an im­perial mandate, and thereby control the shogun and rule the country—was cut off halfway, but he was only the first to try. Every other great lord in the country considered Imagawa's plans to be the best. But only Nobunaga was bold enough to travel to Kyoto alone and prepare for the future.

After several meetings with Miyoshi Nagayoshi, Nobunaga finally secured an interview with Shogun Yoshiteru. Naturally he went to the Miyoshi mansion in his usual dis­guise, changed into formal dress, and went to the shogun's palace.

The shogunal dwelling was a luxurious palace gone to ruin. The luxury and wealth that had been created and then exhausted by thirteen successive shoguns was now noth­ing more than a half-remembered dream. All that remained was a self-serving and self-important administration.

"So you are Nobuhide's son, Nobunaga?" Yoshiteru said. There was no strength in his voice. His manners were perfect, but there was no life in them.

Nobunaga quickly perceived that there was no longer any vigor left in the office of shogun. Prostrating himself, he asked for the favor of Yoshiteru's acquaintance. But in the voice of the bowing man, there was a strength that overwhelmed his superior.

"I came to Kyoto incognito this time. I doubt if any of these local products from Owari will please the eye of a person from the capital." Presenting Yoshiteru with a list of gifts, he started to back away.

"Perhaps you would favor me by staying for dinner," Yoshiteru said.

Sake was served. From the banquet room they could view an elegant garden. In the evening darkness, the color of hydrangeas and the dew on the damp moss glittered in the lamplight.

Nobunaga's character was not one of strict formality, regardless of the company and the situation. He behaved without reserve when the sake flasks were reverently brought in and when the meal was served in a fastidiously traditional manner.

Yoshiteru gazed at his guest as though his appetite were a wonderful thing. Although weary of luxury and formality, he saw it as a point of pride that every dish that was served at his table was a delicacy from the capital.

"Nobunaga, how do you find Kyoto cooking?"

"It's excellent…"

"How's the flavor?"

Well, the flavor of the cooking of the capital is pretty subtle. Food this insipid is rare for me."

"Is that so? Do you follow the Way of Tea?"

“I’ve drunk tea in the same way I've drunk water ever since I was a boy, but I'm unacquainted with the way  experts practice the tea ceremony."

“Did you view the garden?"

"Yes, I saw it."

"What did you think?"

"I thought it was rather small."

"Small?"

"It's very pretty, but when I compare it with the view of the hills of Kiyosu…"

"You don't seem to understand anything at all." The shogun laughed again. "But it's better to be ignorant than have only a smattering of knowledge. Well, then, what do you have a taste for?"

"Archery. Beyond that, I have no special talents. But if you would hear something extraordinary, I was able to rush here to your very gates in three days, passing through enemy territory on the Mino-Omi road from Owari. Now that the entire country is in chaos, there's always the possibility that an incident may occur in or near the palace. I would be very thankful if you would keep me in mind," he said with a smile.

Originally it had been Nobunaga who had taken advantage of the national chaos and overthrown the Shiba governor of Owari who had been appointed by the shogun.

And, even though the matter was reviewed in the High Court of the shogun as a show of the administration's outrage and authority, this was really only a matter of form. But recently the provincial governors rarely came to visit Kyoto, and the shogun felt iso­lated. His boredom was relieved by Nobunaga's call, and he seemed to be anxious to talk.

Yoshiteru might have expected hints of a desire for official promotion or court rank during this talk, but none came, and finally Nobunaga cheerfully took his leave.

"Let's go home," Nobunaga said, announcing their return after a thirty-day stay in the capital. "Tomorrow," he quickly added. As the attendants in disguise as country samurai and ascetics, who had lodged separately, now busily prepared to start off on the journey home, a messenger delivered a warning from Owari.

Rumors have been spread since your departure from Kiyosu. When you go back, use extreme prudence, and please be prepared against some mishap on the road.

Whichever way they went, they were going to have to go through one enemy province after another. What road could they take safely? Perhaps they should return by ship.

Nobunaga's attendants gathered that night in the house where he had been staying and discussed the matter, but were not able to come to an agreement. Suddenly, Ikeda Shonyu came out unceremoniously from the direction of Nobunaga's room and stared at them. "You gentlemen still haven't gone to bed?"

One of the men looked at him with an irritated expression. "We're discussing some­thing important."

"I didn't know you were in the middle of a conference. What in the world are you talking about?"

"You're pretty carefree for one of His Lordship's attendants. Don't you know about the message that came by courier this evening?"

"I heard."

"It's most important that nothing happen on the way home. We're just now bangingour heads together trying to figure out which road we should take."

"Your worry is all for nothing. His Lordship has already decided."

"What? He's decided?"

"When we came to the capital, there were too many people, so he felt as though we stood out. His plan for going home is that four or five people will be enough. The retainers can go home separately, taking any road they like."

Nobunaga left the capital before sunrise. And just as Shonyu had said, twenty or thirty of the men disguised as mountain ascetics, and most of the country samurai, were left behind. Only four men accompanied him. Shonyu was among them, of course, but the one who felt most honored about being chosen for this small group was Tokichiro.

"He's rather unprotected."

"Do you suppose he's all right?"

The group of retainers that had been left behind was uneasy, and followed Nobunaga as far as Otsu, but at that point Nobunaga and his men hired horses and went east over the bridge at Seta. There were a number of checkpoints, but he passed through without difficulty. Nobunaga had asked for a letter of safe conduct from Miyoshi Nagayoshi that stated he was traveling under the protection of the governor-general. At every barrier they came to, he would show the letter and pass on.

*  *  *

The Way of Tea had become widespread across the country. In a violent and bloody world, people sought peace and a quiet place where they might find a brief respite from the noise and confusion. Tea was the elegant boundary where peace contrasted with action, and perhaps it was not so strange that its most devoted followers were the samurai, whose daily lives were soaked in blood.

Nene had learned the Way of Tea. Her father, whom she loved dearly, also drank tea, so this made it quite different from playing the koto, displaying her talent just to the people who happened to pass by the house.

There was inducement for making tea in the peace of the morning, in her father’s genial smile, and in the act of whisking the hot green froth in a bowl of black Seto ware. As such, this was not just a game but a part of her daily life.

"There's a rather heavy dew in the garden, isn't there? And the chrysanthemum buds are still hard." Mataemon looked out into the tiny enclosed area from his open veranda. Nene, who was busy in front of the hearth, tea ladle in hand, did not answer. The boiling water that she ladled from the kettle fell into the tea bowl as though from a spring, cheerffully infringing on the loneliness of the room. She smiled and looked away.

“No, two or three of the chrysanthemums outside are already quite fragrant."

"Really? They've already bloomed? I didn't notice when I took the broom out and swept this morning. It seems a shame that flowers should have to bloom under the roof of the house of a provincial warrior."

The bamboo whisk poised in Nene's fingers made a crisp sound as she whisked the tea. She was embarrassed by her father's words, but Mataemon did not notice. Takiing the tea bowl and raising it reverently to his lips, he drank the frothy green tea. His faceshowed that he was enjoying the morning. But suddenly his thoughts changed: If my daughter goes to live somewhere else, I won't be drinking tea like this anymore.

"Excuse me." A voice came from behind the sliding doors.

"Okoi?" As his wife came into the room, Mataemon handed the tea bowl to Nene.

"Shall Nene prepare tea for you, too?"

"No, I'll have some later."

Okoi was carrying a letter case, and a messenger was waiting at the entrance. Mataemon put the letter case on his lap and opened the lid. A dubious look crossed his face. “His Lordship's cousin. It's from Lord Nagoya. What can it be?" Mataemon suddenly stood up, washed his hands, and then took the letter again reverently. Even though it was only a letter, it was from a member of Lord Nobunaga's family, and Mataemon behaved as if he were standing in front of the man himself.

"Is the messenger waiting?"

"Yes, but he said that a verbal response would be fine."

"No, no. That would be impolite. Bring me the inkstone."

Mataemon put brush to paper and handed his reply to the messenger. Okoi, however, felt uneasy about its contents. It was extremely unusual for a letter from Lord Nobunaga's cousin to be sent to the house of this lowly retainer. And this one had come directly by messenger.

"What can it be about?" she asked. Even Mataemon did not know because the letter contained nothing more than pleasantries. He could find nothing that might pass as a secret message or have meaning read into it beyond what it seemed to say.

Today I'm spending the entire day reading at my country retreat at Horikawazoi. I lament the fact that no one comes on such a pleasant day to enjoy the fragrance of the chrysanthemums I have raised. If you have some leisure, please come by to see me.

There was nothing more, but there must have been something more to it than this. If Mataemon had been particularly practiced at tea, an admirable reader, or a man of exceptional taste, the invitation might have been natural. But in fact he had not noticed the chrysanthemums blooming on his own fence. He was quick to notice dust on a bow, but otherwise he was the kind of man who would happily trample chrysanthemums underfoot.

"I'll go anyway. Okoi, put out my best clothes."

Standing in the bright autumn sunlight, Mataemon turned once to look at his house. Nene and Okoi had come out as far as the gate. His heart was strangely at peace, thankful that there were days like this, even in this world of chaos. He smiled at the thought and noticed that Nene and Okoi were also smiling. He turned briskly and walked away. Neighbors called to him, and he answered them as he walked by. The archers' houses were small and poor. The many children that always accompany poverty were also in abundance in the tenements, and through the fences at every house he could see diapers hung out to dry.

Now maybe we'll have a grandchild's diapers like that in our own yard. Such thoughts

naturally came to him, but they were not especially comforting to Mataemon. He was not all that pleased with the idea that someday he was going to be called "grandpa." Before that happened, he planned on making a name for himself. He had striven not to be left behind at Dengakuhazama, and he had certainly not given up the hope of heading the list of meritorious warriors in future battles. While in the midst of these thoughts, he found himself before Lord Nagoya's elegant villa.

The building had formerly been a small temple, but Nagoya had had it remodeled as a country villa.

Nagoya was exceedingly pleased with his prompt visit. "Thank you for coming. This year we've had a number of military disturbances, but I did manage to plant some chrysanthemums. Perhaps later you could do me the honor of looking at them."

Mataemon was treated graciously, but because his host was one of Nobunaga's close relatives, he sat at a respectful distance and bowed low.

What was the purpose of this? Mataemon wondered a little anxiously.

"Mataemon, make yourself more comfortable. Get yourself a cushion. You can see the chrysanthemums from here as well. Looking at chrysanthemums is not just looking at flowers, you know, it's looking at a man's work. But showing them to others is not a mat­ter of boasting, it's sharing the pleasure, and enjoying another person's appreciation. Smelling the fragrance of chrysanthemums under a beautiful sky like this is another of His Lordship's favors."

"Most certainly, my lord."

"That we are blessed with a wise lord is something we've become acutely aware of recently. I'm sure none of us will ever be able to forget the appearance of Lord Nobunaga at Okehazama."

"With respect, my lord, he did not seem to be human, but an incarnation of the god of war."

"Nevertheless, we all did well together, didn't we? You're in the archers' regiment, but that day you were among the spearmen, weren't you?"

"That's correct, my lord."

"Were you in the attack on the Imagawa headquarters?"

"When we finally rushed the hill, the action was so confused that we could hardly tell friend from foe. But in the midst of it I heard Mori Shinsuke announce that he had taken the lord of Suruga's head."

"Was a man by the name of Kinoshita Tokichiro in your regiment?"

"He was indeed, my lord."

"What about Maeda Inuchiyo?"

“He had received His Lordship's displeasure, but was given permission to join the battle. I haven't seen him since we returned from Okehazama, but hasn't he returned to his former post?"

“He has. You probably still don't know about this, but he just recently accompanied his Lordship to Kyoto. They have returned to the castle, and Inuchiyo is in service there now."

"Kyoto! Why did His Lordship go there?"

“There's no harm in talking about it now. He went with only thirty or forty men, and

he himself was disguised as a country samurai on a pilgrimage. They were gone about forty days. His retainers acted as though he were here during that time. Shall we have a look at the chrysanthemum garden?"

Mataemon followed his host into the garden as though he were a servant. Nagoya spoke of the finer points of growing chrysanthemums, and how one had to use the same care and love as in raising a child.

"I've heard you have a daughter. She's called Nene, isn't she? I would like to help you find a son-in-law."

"My lord?" Mataemon bowed almost in half. Yet he hesitated momentarily. The sub­ject recalled to him his own confusion. Nagoya ignored his vacillation, however, and went on, "I know someone who would make an excellent son-in-law. Leave it to me. I'll handle this."

"My family is really unworthy of this honor, my lord."

"You should talk it over with your wife. The man I have in mind for your son-in-law is Kinoshita Tokichiro. You know him well, I believe."

"Yes, my lord," Mataemon answered without thinking. He reproached himself for being so ill-bred as to sound surprised, but he was unable to stop himself.

"I'll wait for your answer."

"Yes… indeed…" With that, Mataemon took his leave.

He had wanted to ask more than a few questions about the reason for this interview, but could not be so openly inquisitive with a member of Lord Nobunaga's family. When he arrived home, Mataemon related what happened, and his wife seemed troubled that he had come home without giving a prompt reply.

"You should accept his request," she said. "I think this is really good news. Relationships are always a matter of timing, and the fact that Tokichiro has spoken with Nene so many times shows they had strong connections in a previous life. Tokichiro must have some merit for a relative of His Lordship to act as his go-between. Please go tomorrow and give Lord Nagoya your answer."

"But don't you think I should ask Nene how she feels?"

"Hasn't she already spoken out about that?" Okoi asked.

"Well, I wonder if she still feels the same way."

"Nene is not very talkative, but once she's made up her mind, she doesn't often change it."

Alone, Mataemon wrestled with his worries for the future, and felt the awkwardness of being tossed aside. So at a time when they thought that Tokichiro might have been forgotten, having not shown his face there at all, he once again featured largely in the thoughts of Mataemon, his wife, and Nene.

The next day Mataemon quickly went off to deliver an answer to Lord Nagoya. As soon as he returned, he spoke to his wife. "Well, there was rather unexpected news." His wife immediately saw from his expression that this was something exceptional. As her husband told her about his meeting with Nagoya, the bright light that now shone on Nene's situation was manifest in both of their smiles.

"I had made up my mind today to ask Lord Nagoya why he had offered to be a go-between, but to ask this of a member of His Lordship's family was really difficult. Just as I

was trying my best to be polite, he mentioned that Inuchiyo had asked him."

"Inuchiyo asked Lord Nagoya?" exclaimed his wife. "Are you saying that he suggested that Nene and Tokichiro get married?"

"It seems as though there was some talk on the road when His Lordship made his secret trip to Kyoto. Well, I suppose His Lordship overheard it."

"My! His Lordship himself?"

"Yes, this is really quite extraordinary. It seems that during the long hours of the trip Inuchiyo and Tokichiro were talking about Nene quite openly, right in front of His Lordship."

"Has Master Inuchiyo given his consent?"

"Inuchiyo went to Lord Nagoya and made the same request, so we won't have to worry about him anymore."

"Well then, did you give a clear answer to Lord Nagoya today?"

"Yes, I told him that I placed the matter entirely in his hands." With that, Mataermon straightened up as though his worries had been completely cleared away.

*  *  *

The year passed, and on an auspicious day in the fall, the wedding was celebrated at the Asano home.

Tokichiro felt restless and fidgety. His household was in confusion, with Gonzo, the servant girl, and the others who had come to help, and he had been able to do nothing  more than ramble in and out of the house since early morning. Today is the third day of the Eighth Month, isn't it? He kept confirming the obvious over and over in his mind. From time to time he would open up his clothes chest or try to relax on a cushion, but he just couldn't settle down. I'm marrying Nene and becoming a member of her family, he reminded himself. It's finally happening tonight, but now I somehow feel ill at ease.

After the wedding had been announced, Tokichiro became uncharacteristically shy. When his neighbors and colleagues heard the news, they came with gifts, but he would turn red and speak as though he were trying to save his reputation. "Well, no, it's really just a family celebration. I had thought it was still a little early for me to get married, but the family wants the wedding to take place as soon as possible."

Nobody knew that his desire had been turned into reality by his friend, Maeda Inichiyo. Not only had Inuchiyo given up Nene, but he had also swayed Lord Nagoya into action.

“I heard that Lord Nagoya made a recommendation in his favor. On top of that, Asano Mataemon's given him his consent, so they must see some promise in Monkey somewhere." So, first with his colleagues, and then with people of both high and low estate, Tokichiro's reputation was enhanced by this marriage, and malicious gossip was held in check.

Tokichiro, however, was unconcerned with gossip, good or bad. To him, informing  his mother in Nakamura was most important. Most assuredly, he had wanted to rush there himself and tell his mother about Nene, her lineage and character, along with all the other talk. But she had told him to serve his lord with diligence, and to let her stay

Nakamura, and not to be distracted by her until he became a person of consequence.

He suppressed his desire to see her right away, and informed her of new developments by letter. And she often wrote in reply. What especially pleased Tokichiro was that the news of his gradual promotion and of his marriage to the daughter of a samurai, through the good offices of one of Nobunaga's cousins, was known in Nakamura. And a result, he knew, his mother and sister were looked upon quite differently now by the villagers.

"Let me do your hair, sir?" Gonzo appeared with a box of combs and knelt beside him.

"What? I have to tie up my hair, too?"

"You're the bridegroom tonight, and you should have your hair done up properly."

When Gonzo had arranged his hair, Tokichiro went out into the garden.

White stars began to appear through the branches of the paulownia trees. The bridegroom was feeling sentimental tonight. Tokichiro was surrounded by great joy. Yet every time he encountered some happiness, he thought of his mother. Thus, there was a little sadness in his happiness. There's no end to our desires. After all, he consoled himself, there are people in the world without mothers.

Tokichiro immersed himself in the bathtub. Tonight he would be especially diligent washing the nape of his neck. When he had finished bathing, put on a light cotton kimono, and gone back into the house, he found it so full of people that it was difficult to tell whether it was his house or someone else's. Wondering why everyone was so busy, he looked once around the living room and the kitchen, and was finally reduced to sharing a corner of a room with the mosquitoes, and looking on as others worked.

Shrill voices gave out orders, and shrill voices responded.

"Arrange all of the bridegroom's personal accessories on top of his wardrobe."

"I've done that. His fan and pillbox are there, too."

There were all sorts of people running about. Whose wife was that? Whose husband over there? These people were not close relatives, but they all worked together harmoniously.

The bridegroom, who was still all alone in the corner, recalled the faces of these people and felt joy in the very depths of his heart. In one room, a boisterous old man was holding forth on the ancient customs and manners of adopting a son-in-law and taking a wife. "Are the groom's sandals worn out? Old sandals just won't do. He has to wear new ones to the bride's house. Then, tonight, the bride's father will sleep holding the sandals, and the bridegroom's feet will never leave the house."

An old lady piped up, "People have to have paper lanterns. You can't just walk to the bride's house carrying torches. Then the lanterns are handed over to the bride's family, and they put them in front of the house altar for three days and three nights." She spoke a kindly way, as though the bridegroom were her own son.

About then, a messenger came to the house, carrying the ceremonial first letter from the bride to the groom. One of the wives stepped timidly through the crowd, carrying a laquered letter box.

Tokichiro spoke from the veranda. "I'm over here."

"This is the first letter from the bride," the woman said. "And it's the custom thatthe bridegroom write something in return."

"What should I write?"

The woman giggled but gave him no instructions. Paper and a writing case were set down in front of him.

Perplexed, Tokichiro picked up the brush. He had never exactly exerted himself in literary matters. He had learned to write at the Komyo Temple, and when he had worked in the pottery shop, his calligraphy had at least been average, so he felt no humiliation about writing something in front of others. He was simply troubled about what to say. Finally he wrote:

On this pleasant night, the bridegroom, too, should come to talk.

He showed it to the housewife who had brought him the writing case.

"Is this all right?"

"It will do."

"You received a letter from your husband at your wedding, didn't you? Don't you remember what he wrote?"

"No," she replied.

He laughed. "When you yourself forget, it must not have been very important."

After that, the bridegroom was outfitted in a ceremonial kimono and given a fan.

The moon shone clearly in the early autumn evening sky, and torches burned brightly at the entrance gates. At the head of the procession was a riderless horse and two spearmen. Following these were three torchbearers, then the bridegroom himself, in new sandals.

There was no gorgeous wedding furniture such as inlaid chests, folding screens, or Chinese furniture, but there was one armor chest and a wardrobe box. For a samurai of that time who commanded thirty foot soldiers, he had nothing to be ashamed of. On the contrary, Tokichiro probably felt some secret pride. For if none of the people who had helped him this evening and who accompanied him now were relatives, neither had they been employed to do so. They had come and rejoiced in this wedding as though it were their own affair.

Bright lights danced at every gate of the tenements of the archers' neighborhood that evening, and all the gates were open. Bonfires burned here and there, and there were people carrying paper lanterns, waiting with the bride's household for the arrival of the groom. Holding their children, mothers waved, and good cheer shone on their faces, brightened by the lights and fires.

Just then, some children came running from the crossroads across the way.

"He's coming! He's coming!"

"The bridegroom is coming!"

The mother of the children called them over, gently reproaching them and calling them to her side. The moon bathed the road in a pale light. The children's announcement had acted as a herald, and from that point no one crossed the hushed street.

Two torchbearers turned the corner. Behind them walked the bridegroom. Bells had been attached to the trimmings on the horse, and as they swayed back and forth, the bellsmade little sounds like the chirping of crickets. The chest of armor and the two spears were borne by five attendants. It was not such a bad show for the neighborhood.

The bridegroom, Tokichiro, looked particularly admirable. He was a man of small stature, but his appearance would have been appropriate even without fine clothes. He wasn't so ugly as to cause gossip, nor did he appear to be a man whose intelligence had gone to his head. If one had asked the people who stood by their fences and gates what kind of man he was, they would all probably have said that he was an ordinary fellow, and a fitting husband for Nene.

"Welcome, welcome."

"Let the bridegroom in!"

"Congratulations!"

The relatives and family waiting near the gate of Mataemon's house greeted Tokichiro, their features momentarily brightening in the flickering light.

"Please come in." The bridegroom was led by himself to a separate room. Tokichiro sat down alone. It was a small house, with no more than six or seven rooms. The helpers were just on the other side of the sliding door. The kitchen was just across the narrow garden, and he could hear the sounds of dishes being washed, and the smell of cooking wafted toward him.

Tokichiro hadn't noticed it so much as he was walking through the streets, but now that he was sitting down, he could hear the beating of his own heart, and his mouth felt dry. He sat alone in the room, almost as though he had been forgotten. Still, it would not be proper for him to breach decorum, so he resolved to sit there in a dignified manner whether anyone saw him or not.

Happily, Tokichiro was rarely bored. Certainly, as a bridegroom who was soon to meet his bride, there was no reason to be bored at all. But even so, at some point he forgot all about the wedding and diverted himself with an unrelated reverie for the while.  His mind flew off to an absurd direction for the present: Okazaki Castle. What developments were going on there? Recently this had occupied his thoughts more than anything else. Rather than wondering about how his new bride would speak to him on the following morning and how she would appear when she greeted him, his mind was caught up by these things.

Would Okazaki Castle side with the Imagawa? Would it ally itself with the Oda clan? Once again, the forked road of fate. Last year, following the Imagawa clan's terrible defeat at Okehazama, the Tokugawa clan looked at three different possibilities. Should they continue to support the Imagawa? Should they remain unaligned with both the Imagawa and the Oda, and boldly affirm their independence at this time? Or should they take the path of alliance with the Oda? They would have to choose one of these three alternatives sooner or later. For many years the Tokugawa clan had been a sort of parasitic plant whose existence depended on the great tree of the Imagawa.

The very root and trunk of that relationship, however, had fallen at Okehazama. Their own strength was still insufficient, but after the death of Imagawa Yoshimoto, the Tokugawa could hardly rely on Yoshimoto's heir, Ujizane. This was all information that came either from rumors or from distantly overheard discussions among the senior retainers, but Tokichiro was very interested and concerned.

Now we're going to see what Tokugawa Ieyasu is made of, he thought. He was more interested than others in this lord of Okazaki Castle. Tokichiro considered that even though Ieyasu had been born the lord of a castle and a province, here was a man who had suffered even more misfortune in the world than himself. The more he heard about Ieyasu's life, the more his heart went out to him. Nevertheless, Ieyasu was still just a young man, nineteen years old this year. At the time of the battle of Okehazama, he had com­manded Yoshimoto's vanguard, and his performance in the capture of Washizu and Marune had been admirable. His decision to retreat to Mikawa when he heard that Yoshimoto had been killed was also admirable. Ieyasu's reputation was good, both within the Oda camp and, later, at Kiyosu. Thus, he had become the subject of much talk. Tokichiro, too, was now absorbed in his own thoughts as to what position Ieyasu and Okazaki Cas­tle would finally take.

"Master Bridegroom. Are you in here?"

The sliding door opened. Tokichiro returned to himself. Or rather, he returned to himself as a bridegroom.

Niwa Hyozo, a retainer to Lord Nagoya, entered with his wife. They would be the go-betweens. "We're going to perform the tokoroarawashi ceremony," Hyozo said, "so please wait here just a little while longer."

Tokichiro was confused. " Tokoroara —what?"

"It's an ancient ceremony in which the bride's mother and father and their relatives come to see the bridegroom for the first time."

At which point Niwa's wife told Tokichiro, "Please sit down," and, opening the sliding door, beckoned the people who had been waiting in the next room. The very first to come in and extend their greetings were the parents-in-law, Asano Mataemon and his wife. Even though they all knew each other well, they followed the form of ceremony. Upon seeing these two well-known faces, Tokichiro felt much more relaxed, and his hand fumbled as though he wanted to scratch his head.

Following Nene's parents was a lovely girl of fifteen or sixteen, who bowed and said bashfully, "I'm Nene's sister. My name is Oyaya."

Tokichiro was puzzled. This young girl was even more beautiful than Nene. More than that, until now he hadn't even known that Nene had a younger sister. In what deep part of a warrior's narrow house could this lovely flower have been kept?

"Well, ah, thank you. I am Kinoshita Tokichiro, come here by fate. I'm pleased to meet you." Wondering if this was the bridegroom that she would be calling "elder brother," Oyaya peeked back at him as a young girl might, but another relative quickly came up from behind. One by one they came in and spoke with him. Meeting them all at once, Tokichiro could hardly remember who was whose paternal uncle or niece or first cousin, and wondered how many relatives Nene had.

He thought that this might be annoying later on, but the sudden appearance of a cute sister-in-law and kindly relatives improved his mood. He had few relatives of his own, but he loved large crowds, and a boisterous, lively, laughing family was ideal.

“Master Bridegroom, please take your seat." The go-betweens invited him to a small room hardly big enough to contain them all, and, ushered to the seat provided him, the bridegroom sat down in their midst.

It was an autumn evening, but indoors it was still hot and sultry. The rattan blinds hung from the eaves as they had throughout the summer, and through them filtered the chirping of insects and the autumn breeze that fluttered the wicks of the oil lamps. The spotlessly clean room was dark and less than luxurious.

The room set aside for the ceremony itself was small, and there was a strangely refreshing quality about the complete absence of decoration. Slatted reed mats had been spread over the floor. An altar to the gods of creation, Izanagi and Izanami, had been erected at the back of the room, in front of which had been placed offerings of rice cakes and sake, a single candle, and a branch of a sacred tree.

Tokichiro felt himself stiffen as he sat there.

From this night forth…

This ceremony would tie him to the responsibilities of being a husband, to a new life, and to the fate of his in-laws. All of which made Tokichiro take a fresh look at himself. More than anything, he could not help being in love with Nene. If he had not insisted, she would have quickly married another, but after tonight, her fate would be tied to his.

I must make her happy. This was the first thought that came to him as he sat down in the bridegroom's seat. He felt sorry for her because, as a woman, she did not have as much control over her fate as a man.

Before long, the simple ceremony began. After the bridegroom had sat down, Nene was led in by an old lady and took the seat at his side.

Her long hair was tied loosely with red and white cord. Her outer kimono, which was of white raw silk with a brocaded diamond pattern, was wrapped around her waist into a skirt. Beneath it she wore a gown of the same white silk, and beneath that was a final layer of red glossed silk that peeked out from the edge of her sleeves. Apart from a good-luck charm around her neck, she wore no gold or silver hair ornaments, or any thick rouge or powder. Her appearance was in total harmony with the simplicity of the surroundings. The beauty of the ceremony was not the beauty of gaudy clothes, but rather that of the unadorned. The only note of ornamentation in the room was a pair of flasks held by a lit­tle boy and girl.

"May this relationship be happy and everlasting. May you be faithful to each other for a hundred thousand autumns," the old woman said to the bride and groom.

Tokichiro held out his cup, received some sake, and drank. The server turned to Nene. Nene in turn made her pledge with a sip from her cup.

Tokichiro felt a rush of blood to his head and a pounding in his chest, but Nene looked remarkably calm. This was something that she herself had decided. She was de­termined not to hold anything against her parents or the gods, no matter what she encountered from this day on. Thus there was something touching and lovely in her appearance as she put the cup to her lips.

As soon as the bride and groom had shared the wedding cup, Niwa Hyozo began a congratulatory song in a voice seasoned by many years on the battlefield. Hyozo had just gotten through the first verse of the song, when someone outside took up the chorus.

The house had fallen silent during Hyozo's song, so the sudden, mannerless singing outside was all the more shocking. Hyozo was surprised, and hesitated for a moment. Without thinking, Tokichiro looked toward the garden.

"Who is it?" a servant asked the prankster.

Just then, a man outside the gate began to sing in a deep voice, mimicking a Noh actor, and walked toward the veranda. Completely forgetting himself, Tokichiro left his seat and walked unceremoniously to the veranda.

"Is that you, Inuchiyo?"

"Master Bridegroom!" Maeda Inuchiyo threw back the hood that was hiding his face. "We've come to perform the water-pouring ceremony. May we come in?"

Tokichiro clapped his hands. "I'm really glad you came. Come in, come in!"

"I came with friends. Is that all right?"

"Sure. We've finished the wedding ceremony, and from tonight, I'm the son-in-law of this house."

"They have a good one. Perhaps I might receive a cup from Master Mataemon." Inuchiyo turned and beckoned toward the darkness.

"Hey, everybody! They're going to let us do the water-pouring ceremony!"

Several men answered Inuchiyo's call at once and pushed their way in, filling the garden with their voices. Ikeda Shonyu was there, as was Maeda Tohachiro, Kato Yasaburo and his old friend Ganmaku. Even the pockmarked master carpenter was there.

The water-pouring ceremony was an ancient custom in which the old friends of the bridegroom went uninvited to his father-in-law's house. The bride's family was obliged to receive them cordially, and the gate-crashers would then drag the groom out into the garden and douse him with water.

Tonight's water-pouring ceremony was a little premature. As a rule, it was carried out from six months to a year after the wedding.

Mataemon's entire household and Niwa Hyozo were appalled. But the bridegroom was elated, and welcomed them.

"What? You, too?" he said, greeting men he hadn't seen for some time, and then told his white-robed wife, "Nene, quick, bring some food. And sake. A lot of sake!'

"Right away." Nene looked as if she had been expecting this visit. As Tokichiro's wife, she knew that she should not be surprised by such things. She accepted the situation without the slightest complaint. She took off her snow-white kimono and wrapped an everyday thick skirt around her waist. Tying up her long sleeves with a cord, she set to work.

"What kind of wedding is this?" complained an indignant wedding guest. Calming their relatives down, Mataemon and his wife bustled through the din and confusion of the crowd. When Mataemon had heard that the gate-crashers were led by Inuchiyo, he had been alarmed. But when he saw how Inuchiyo laughed and talked with Tokichiro, he was put at ease.

'Nene! Nene!" Mataemon said, "if there's not enough sake, send someone out to buy some more. These men should drink as much as they want." And then, to his wife, Okoi! Okoi! What are you doing, just standing around? The sake is here, but nobody has a cup. Even if it's no great feast, bring out whatever we have. I'm so happy that Inuchiyo has come here with all these people."

When Okoi returned with the cups, Mataemon served Inuchiyo personally. He had very strong feelings for this man who might have become his son-in-law. But that fate had not been theirs. Strangely, though, their friendship had survived, the straightforward

comradeship of two samurai. Emotion swelled in Mataemon's breast, but he did not let it show in his face or words—they were two samurai together.

"Well, Mataemon, I'm happy too. You've got a good son-in-law. I congratulate you with all my heart," Inuchiyo said. "Listen, I know I barged in tonight. You're not put out, are you?"

"Not at all, not at all." Mataemon himself was spurred on by this. "We'll drink all night long!"

Inuchiyo laughed loudly. "If we drink and sing all night, won't we make the bride angry?"

"Why? That's not the way she was brought up," Tokichiro said. "She's a very virtuous woman."

Inuchiyo drew closer to Tokichiro and began to tease him. "Well now, could you talk a little more about such shameful things?"

"No. I apologize. I've already said too much."

"I'm not going to let you off so easily. Now here's a big sake cup."

"You can spare me the big one. The little one will be just fine."

"What kind of bridegroom are you? Don't you have any pride?"

They teased each other as though they were children. But even with so much sake around, Tokichiro did not drink to excess—not tonight or ever. Since childhood he had carried with him the vivid memory of the effects of excessive drinking, and now when he looked at the big sake cup being forced on him, he saw the face of his drunken stepfather, and then the face of his mother, who was made to grieve so often because of his stepfa­ther's drinking. Tokichiro knew his own limits well. He had grown up in great poverty, and his body was not strong compared to others. Although he was still a young man, he was careful.

"A big cup is too much for me. Give me a small one, please. In return, I'll sing some­thing for you."

"What? You'll sing?"

Instead of giving an answer, Tokichiro had already begun to beat his lap as if it were a drum, and now started to sing.

To think that a man

Has only fifty years to live…

"No, stop." Inuchiyo put his hand over Tokichiro's mouth in mid-verse. "You shouldn't sing that. It's from Atsumori, the one His Lordship does so well."

"Well, I have learned the dances and songs he performs by following his example. It's not a forbidden song, so is it so bad to sing it?"

"Yes, it is. It's not good at all."

"What's so bad about it?"

"It's just inappropriate to perform at a wedding."

"His Lordship danced to Atsumori the morning the army set out for Okehazama. From tonight, the two of us, a poverty-stricken husband and wife, are starting out in the world. So it's not altogether inappropriate."

"The resolution to go out on the battlefield is one thing, and a wedding celebration isanother. True warriors set their minds on living a long life with their wives, until they’re white-haired old men and women."

Tokichiro slapped his knee. "That's right. To tell the truth, that's exactly what I hope. If there's a war, it can't be helped, but I don't want to die in vain. Fifty years is not enough. I'd like to live happy and faithful to Nene for a hundred years."

"Bragging again. You'd better dance. Come on, dance."

At Inuchiyo's urging, a great number of people egged Tokichiro on.

"Wait. Wait a moment. I'll dance." Persuading his friends to let him off for a moment, Tokichiro turned toward the kitchen, clapped his hands, and called out, "Nene! We're out of sake!'

"Coming," Nene answered. She was not at all timid with the guests. Cheerfully carrying in the flasks, she served everyone just as Tokichiro had asked. The only people who were surprised were her parents and relatives, who had always regarded her as nothing more than a child. But Nene's heart had already become one with her husband's, and Tokichiro did not seem in the least awkward with his new wife. As might be expected, Inuchiyo, who was a little drunk, could not keep from blushing when she served him.

"Well, Nene, from tonight on, you're Master Tokichiro's wife. I should congratulate you again," he said, moving the sake stand in front of her. "There's something that all my friends know and that I haven't hidden from them. Rather than being ashamed and keeping it to myself, I'm going to make a clean breast of it. How about it, Tokichiro?"

"What is it?"

"I'd like to borrow your wife for a moment."

Laughing, Tokichiro said, "Go ahead."

"Well, Nene. At one time it was on everyone's lips that I loved you. And there's been no change in that at all. You are the woman I love." Inuchiyo became more serious. And even if he had not been, Nene's breast was already full of the emotions of just having become someone's wife. With this night, her life as a single young woman was over, but she was unable to extinguish her feelings for Inuchiyo.

"Nene, people say that a young girl's heart is unreliable, but you did well when you chose Tokichiro. I gave up the person whom I couldn't help loving. Passion is a foolish thing, because I really love Tokichiro even more than I love you. You could say that I gave you to him as a gift of love from one man to another. Which is to say that I treated you as a piece of goods, but that's what men are like. Isn't that right, Tokichiro?"

"For the most part, I received her without reserve, thinking that might be your motive."

Well, if you had shown reservations about this good woman, it would have been a misjudgment on my part, and I wouldn't have thought much of you. You've got a woman who's far above you."

"You're talking foolishness."

Ah, ha, ha, ha, ha! Anyway, I'm happy. Hey, Tokichiro. We are companions for life but did you ever think there would be a night as happy as this one?"

"No, probably not."

"Nene, is the hand drum around? If I beat the drum, somebody get up and dance

something. Since Kinoshita here isn't a man of sense, I'll bet he doesn't dance so well either.

"Well, for everyone's entertainment, I'll let you see a rather incompetent rendition."

The person who spoke was Nene. Inuchiyo, Ikeda Shonyu, and the other guests opened their eyes wide in surprise. Accompanied by Inuchiyo's drum, Nene opened her fan and began to dance.

"Well done! Well done!" Tokichiro clapped his hands as though he himself had danced. Quite possibly because they were drunk, the energy of their excitement showed no signs of abating. Someone must have proposed that they move on to Sugaguchi, the liveliest quarter of Kiyosu. And there was not a single sober person among them to say no.

"Great! Let's go!" The newlywed Tokichiro got up and led the way. Ignoring his outraged relatives, the party that had come for the water-pouring ceremony forgot even that and, locking arms with the bridegroom, staggered out of the house, supporting one another and waving their arms.

"The poor, poor bride." The relatives were sympathizing with Nene, who had been left behind. But when they looked around for Nene, who just moments ago had been dancing, she was nowhere to be seen. She had pushed open a side door and had gone outside. Pursuing her husband, who was surrounded by his drunken friends, she called out "Have a good time!"and slipped her purse into the front of his kimono. The place that the young men of the castle frequented was a drinking spot called the Nunokawa. Situated in the old quarter of Sugaguchi, it was said that this teahouse had been converted from an old shop of sake merchants, who had lived there long before either the Oda or their predecessors, the Shiba, had been masters of Owari. Thus, the shop was well known for the size of its ancient building.

Tokichiro was more than a regular. In fact, if his face did not appear when people gathered there, the staff and his friends felt the loss—like a smile with a missing tooth, Tokichiro's marriage was more than enough cause for all the patrons to raise their cups at their favorite drinking haunt. As the friends pushed their way through the shop's curtained entrance, somebody announced the news in the huge entrance hall. 'Ladies and gentlemen and staff of the Nunokawa! Won't you all come out to welcome a guest? We've brought in a bridegroom unparalleled in all the world! And guess who it is. A fellow by the name of Kinoshita Tokichiro. Celebrate, celebrate! This is his water-pouring ceremony."

Their feet twisted from one unsure step to the next. Tokichiro was buffeted along among them and staggered in.

The staff looked on in blank amazement, but broke out in laughter when they finally underrstood what was happening. They listened with amazement to the story of the bridegroom being seized and carried away during the wedding party.

“This is not a water-pouring ceremony," they said. "It's more like bridegroom snatching.” And they all laughed uproariously. Tokichiro dashed into the building, looking as though he were trying to escape, but his prank-loving friends sat down, encircling him, letting him know that he was a prisoner until dawn. Impatiently they called for sake.

Who knows how much they drank? There was almost no one who could distinguish what songs they sang or what dances they performed.

Eventually each went to sleep where he fell, with his arms as a pillow, or with arms and legs outstretched. As the night deepened, the smells of autumn silently made their way in.

Inuchiyo suddenly raised his head and looked around with a start. Tokichiro had raised his head, too. Ikeda Shonyu opened his eyes. Looking at one another, they pricked up their ears. The clatter of passing horses that broke the silence had woken them from their sleep.

"What is it?"

"There's quite a number of men." Inuchiyo slapped his knee as though he had thought of something. "That's right! It's just the time for Takigawa Kazumasu to be com­ing back. Some time ago he went as an envoy to Tokugawa Ieyasu in Mikawa. Maybe that's it."

"Of course. Will they align with the Oda or rely on the Imagawa? The messenger should have Mikawa's answer."

One after another they opened their eyes, but three of the men dashed out of the Nunokawa without waiting for the others. Following the sound of the bridles and the crowd of men and horses up ahead, they ran in the direction of the castle gate.

Kazumasu had gone to Mikawa as an envoy many times since the battle at Okehazama the year before. That he was charged with the important diplomatic mission of winning Tokugawa Ieyasu's cooperation with the Oda clan was not a secret in Kiyosu.

Until just recently, Mikawa had been a weak province, dependent on the Imagawa. And while Owari was also said to be a small province, it had dealt a fatal blow to the powerful Imagawa, sending a strong reminder to the chief contenders for national lead­ership that there existed today a man by the name of Oda Nobunaga. The strength and morale of the Oda were on the rise. The alliance being sought was called simply a coop­erative federation, and the difficult diplomatic trick would be in making the Oda the se­nior partners in the alliance.

Insofar as a province was small and weak, it was essential that it act without hesita­tion. A province like Mikawa could be swallowed up in a single military campaign. And the fact was that after the death of Yoshimoto, the province of Mikawa stood at a life-and-death turning point. Should the Tokugawa continue to be dependents of the Imagawa under Ujizane? Or go over to the Oda?

The Tokugawa were perplexed, and there had been any number of deliberations, exchanges of envoys, discussions, and recommendations. In the meantime, minor battles were being fought between Suruga and Mikawa. The skirmishes between the Oda branch castles and their opponents in Mikawa had, naturally, not ceased, and no one was able even to estimate the risk involved to the two provinces, or when the fighting might start. And there was a large number of clans besides the Oda and Tokugawa waiting for the war to  start: the Saito of Mino, the Kitabatake of Ise, the Takeda of Kai, and the Imagawa of Suruga. There was no advantage to it. Tokugawa Ieyasu did not feel like fighting, and Oda Nobunaga knew very well that to brace and fight for a final victory over the Tokugawa would be ridiculous. Which is to say that Nobunaga didn't want to fight, either. But it was necessary not to show it. Nobunaga knew the stubborn and patient character of the Tokugawa and thought it important to consider their reputation.

Mizuno Nobutomo was governor of Ogawa Castle. Although he was a retainer of the Oda, he was also Tokugawa Ieyasu's uncle. Nobunaga asked him to speak to his nephew in his behalf. Nobutomo met with Ieyasu and his senior retainers, and tried to entice them from the side with diplomatic efforts. Approached both frontally and laterally, the Tokugawa finally seemed to have made a decision, and an answer to that effect had arrived from Ieyasu. Thus, Takigawa Kazumasu had been sent to Mikawa as an envoy to rece­ive the final answer concerning Nobunaga's offer of an alliance. And when he returned that night, he went to the castle even though it was past midnight. Kazumasu was a senior Oda general, knowledgeable in firearms and a fine marksman.

Nobunaga, however, valued his intelligence far above his marksmanship. He was not what would be called an orator, but his earnest speech had the virtue of sounding extremely rational. Serious and full of common sense, he was also very quick-witted. Because of this, Nobunaga saw him as the right man for this important phase of the diplomatic process.

It was late at night, but Nobunaga was already up and was waiting for Kazumasu in the audience chamber. Kazumasu prostrated himself, still in his travel clothes. To be overly concerned at a time like this about appearing while still dressed in dirty travel clothes, and thus arranging one's hair and clothes, cleaning away the sweat and smell, and only then coming into the lord's presence, was liable to elicit a remark such as, "Did you go off flower viewing?" Kazumasu had witnessed this sort of ill-humored criticism, and so was here with both hands to the floor, still breathing hard, dressed in clothes that smelled of horses. On the other hand, there were very few times when Nobunaga had let his retainers wait a long time while he leisurely took his seat.

Nobunaga questioned him, eager for a reply.

The answer was to the point. There were retainers who, upon returning and giving their official report, would talk a long time about this or that, prattling on about what happened on the way, discussing all the minor details of the problem. As a result, it was difficult to get to the essential question: Did the errand go as planned or not? Nobunaga hated that, and when messengers gave their answers in nothing but digressions, an irritated expression would darken his face that even an outsider could have understood. "Get tothe point!" he would caution.

Kazumasu had been warned about this. Having been selected to perform such an important diplomatic mission, he now looked up to Nobunaga, made a single obeisance, dan went straight to the point. "My lord, I have good news. The agreement with Lord Ieyasu of Mikawa is finally in order. Not only that, but almost all of the provisions are as you desired."

"You succeeded?"

"Yes, my lord, it's settled." Nobunaga's expression was matter-of-fact, but behind it he heaved a heavy sigh of relief. "Moreover, I promised to conclude the articles covering the specifics at a later date with a discussion at Narumi Castle with Ishikawa Kazumasa of the Tokugawa clan."

"Well then, the lord of Mikawa has promised to cooperate with us?"

"By your command."

"Good work," Nobunaga said for the first time. Only then did Kazumasu give a detailed report.

It was near dawn when Kazumasu withdrew from Nobunaga's presence. By the time the light of early morning spilled into the castle grounds, the rumor that the Oda and the lord of Mikawa had made an alliance had already been back and forth, whispered from ear to ear.

Even such secret information as that concerning the imminent meeting of the representatives of the two clans at Narumi to sign the agreement, and the proposed New Year's visit the following year of Tokugawa Ieyasu at Kiyosu Castle to meet Nobunaga for the first time, was quickly and quietly passed among the retainers.

Inuchiyo, Shonyu, Tokichiro, and the other young samurai had recognized from as far away as Sugaguchi the identity of the messenger who was returning to the castle, and had immediately chased after him. Sitting packed together in a room in the castle, they waited breathlessly to know if it would be war or peace with Mikawa.

"Rejoice!" The page, Tohachiro, had heard the news that came swiftly from the inner council, and he told them everything he had heard.

"It's been agreed?" This outcome had generally been expected, but when they knew a settlement had been reached, their faces were brighter, and their hearts looked to the fu­ture with anticipation.

"Now we can fight," said a samurai.

Nobunaga's retainers had not been praising the alliance with Mikawa as a means of avoiding war. They heartily welcomed the treaty with Mikawa, the province to their rear so they could face a greater enemy with all their strength.

"It's His Lordship's good fortune as a warrior."

"And advantageous for Mikawa, as well."

"Now that I've heard the outcome, I can't keep my eyes open. Come to think of it, we haven't slept since last night," said one of the previous night's revelers; to which Tokichiro yelled, "Not me! I feel just the opposite. Last night was a happy event, and so is this morning. With all of these happy things one after another, I feel like going back to Sugaguchi and drinking some more."

Shonyu joked, "You're lying. The place you feel like going back to is Nene's house Well, well, how would the bride spend the first night? Master Tokichiro! This forbearance is futile. How about asking for a full day off today and going home? Somebody's waiting for you now."

"Bah!" Tokichiro put up a bold front in the face of his friends' laughter. The burst of loud guffaws drifted down the corridors in the dawn. Finally, a huge drum sounded from the top of the castle, and each of them quickly went off to his post.

I’m home!" The entrance to Asano Mataemon's house was not large, but when Tokichiro stood there, it seemed awfully big. His voice was clear, and his presence brightened the surroundings.

Oh!" Nene's little sister, Oyaya, was bouncing a ball on the step and looked up at him with round eyes. She had thought that perhaps he was a visitor, but when she saw that he was her sister's husband, she giggled and ran into the house.

Tokichiro laughed too. He felt strangely amused. When he thought about it, he had left the party and gone drinking with his friends, and then had gone straight to the castle.  He was finally coming home at about dusk, the same time of the wedding ceremony the night before. Tonight there were no longer bonfires burning at the gate, but for three days now there had been some sort of family celebration, with guests coming and going.  Tonight the voices of guests filled the house again, and a number of pairs of sandals had been left at the entrance.

I'm home!" the bridegroom once again yelled cheerfully. No one came out to greet him, so they must be busy in the kitchen and the guest room, Tokichiro thought. He was, all, the son-in-law of the house since the night before. Next to his father and mother-in-law, he was the master here. Well, perhaps he should not go in before they all came out to greet him.

“Nene! I'm home!"

A surprised voice came from the direction of the kitchen, on the other side of a low fence.  Mataemon, his wife, Oyaya, some relatives and servants all came out and looked at him with exasperated expressions, as though they wondered what he was doing there.

Nene arrived, she quickly took off her apron, knelt, and greeted him by pressing both hands to the floor.

“Welcome home."

“Welcome back," the others all added hurriedly, lining up and bowing, with the exceptions, of course, of Mataemon and his wife. They appeared to have come out just to look.

Tokichiro looked at Nene and then at all the others and bowed once. He walked straight in, and this time he bowed politely to his father-in-law before reporting the day's events at the castle.

Mataemon had been disgruntled since the previous evening. He had wanted to remind his son-in-law of his duty to his relatives and of Nene's position. Tokichiro had back without a trace of remorse, and Mataemon had resolved that he wouldn't hold back,even if it was bad manners in front of guests. But Tokichiro looked so carefree that Mataemon forgot his complaint. Moreover, Tokichiro's first words had been to inform him of his day at the castle and of their lord's state of mind. Mataemon unconsciously staightened and responded, "Well, you must have had a hard day." Thus he said just the opposite of what he had intended, and praised Tokichiro instead of reprimanding him.

Tokichiro entertained the guests by staying up late that night and drinking. Even when the guests had gone, there were a number of relatives whose homes were so far away that they had to spend the night. Nene was unable to get away from the kitchen, and the servants looked tired.

Even though Tokichiro had finally come home, he and Nene hardly had enough time to smile at one another, much less to be alone together. As the night deepened, Nene put away the cups in the kitchen, gave orders for breakfast, made sure everything was well at the bedsides of each of the befuddled sleeping relatives, and finally loosened the cords that held up her sleeves. Herself again for the first time that night, she looked for the man who had become her husband.

In the room set aside for the two of them slept relatives and children. In the room where they had all been drinking, her mother and father and their close relatives were chatting.

Where is he? she wondered. When she went out to the veranda, a voice called from a dark servant's room off to the side.

"Nene?" It was her husband's voice. Nene tried to answer, but couldn't. Her heart was pounding. Although she had never felt this way until the wedding ceremony, she had not been able to see Tokichiro since the night before.

"Come in," Tokichiro said. Nene could still hear the voices of her parents. While she was standing there, wondering what to do, she suddenly spotted mosquito-repellent in­cense that had been left smoldering. Picking it up, she went in timidly.

"You're sleeping here? There must be a lot of mosquitoes." He had gone to sleep on the floor. Tokichiro stared at his feet.

"Ah, mosquitoes…"

"You must be exhausted."

"And you too," he sympathized. "The relatives resolutely refused, but I just couldn't make the old folks sleep in the servants' quarters while we slept in a room with a gold screen."

"But to sleep in a place like this, without any bedding…" Nene started to get up, but he stopped her.

"It's all right. I've slept on the ground—even on bare planks. My body has been tempered by poverty." He sat up. "Nene, come a little closer."

“Y-yes.”

"A new wife is like a new wooden rice container. If you don't use it for a long time, it smells bad and becomes unusable. When it gets old, the hoops are apt to come off. But it's good to remember that a husband is a husband, too, from time to time. We plan on living a long life together, and have promised to be faithful to each other until we become old and white-haired, but our life is not going to be an easy one. So, while we still have the kind of feelings we do now, I think we should make a pledge to each other. How do you feel about this?"

"Of course. I'll keep this pledge absolutely, no matter what it is," Nene answered clearly.

Tokichiro was the picture of seriousness. He even looked a little grim. Nene, however, was happy at seeing this solemn expression for the first time.

'First, as a husband, I'm going to tell you what I want from you as a wife."

"Please."

My mother is a poor farm woman and refused to come to the wedding. But the per­son who was happiest at my taking a wife more than anyone, anyone in the world, was my mother."

"I see."

“One day my Mother will come to live with us in the same house, and it will be fine if helping your husband takes second place. More than anything, I would like for you to

be devoted to my mother and make her happy."

"Yes."

"My mother was born to a samurai family, but long before my birth, she has been poor. She raised several children in great poverty; just to bring up a single child in such circumstances was to struggle through incredible hardship. She had nothing to make her happy—not even a new cotton kimono for the winter and one for the summer. She's uneducated, she speaks in a country dialect, and she's completely ignorant of manners. As my wife, will you take care of a mother like that with real love? Can you respect and cherish her?"

"I can. Your mother's happiness is your happiness. I think that's natural."

"But you also have two parents in good health. In the same way, they're very important to me. I'm not going to be any less filial to them than you are."

"That makes me happy."

"Then there's one more thing for me," Tokichiro went on. "Your father has raised you to be a virtuous woman, disciplining you with a lot of rules. But I'm not so hard to please. I'm just going to rely on you for one thing."

"Which is?"

"I just want you to be happy in your husband's service, in his work, and in all the things he must commonly do. And that's all. It sounds easy, doesn't it? But it won't be easy at all. Look at the husbands and wives who have passed years together. There are wives who have no idea what their husbands do. Such husbands lose an important incentive, and even a man who works for the sake of the nation or province is small, pitiful, and weak when he is at home. If only his wife is happy and interested in her husband's work, he can go out on the battlefield in the morning with courage. To me, this is the best wy a wife can help her husband."

"I understand."

"All right. Now let's hear what hopes you have of me. Speak up and I'll promise." Despite this request, Nene was unable to say a thing.

"Whatever a wife wishes of her husband. If you won't tell me your desires, shall I say them for you?" Nene smiled and nodded at Tokichiro's words. Then she quickly looked down.

"A husband's love?"

"No…"

"Then an unchanging love."

"Yes."

"To give birth to a healthy child?"

Nene trembled. If there had been a lamp to see it by, her face would have burned as red as the color of cinnabar.

On the morning following the three-day wedding party, Tokichiro and his wife put on formal kimonos for yet another ceremony, and visited the mansion of their go-between, Lord Nagoya. After that, they went around to two or three houses, feeling as though all the eyes of Kiyosu were on them that day. But Nene and her young husband had nothing but good intentions for the passersby who turned to look at them.

"Let's go visit Master Otowaka's house for a moment," said Tokichiro.

"Hey, Monkey!" Otowaka yelled, and then corrected himself in a fluster, "Tokichiro."

"I've brought my wife to meet you."

"What? Of course! The honored daughter of the archer, Master Asano! Tokichiro, you're a lucky fellow."

It was only seven years ago that Tokichiro had come up to this veranda selling nee­dles, dressed in dirty, travel-stained clothes. He had felt as though he hadn't eaten in days. When they had given him some food, he had sat there eating greedily, with his chopsticks clacking.

"You're so lucky, it's scary," Otowaka said. "Well, the house is filthy, but come in." Somewhat flustered, he yelled to his wife inside the house and then showed them in him­self. Just then, they heard a voice shouting in the street. It was a herald, dashing from house to house.

"Join your regiment! Join your regiment! By His Lordship's order!"

"An official order?" Otowaka said. "The call to arms."

"Master Otowaka," Tokichiro said suddenly, "I have to get to the assembly grounds as quickly as possible."

Until this morning, there had been no indication that something like this might hap­pen, and even when Tokichiro had visited Nagoya's residence, appearances had been nothing but peaceful. Where in the world could they be going? Even Tokichiro's usual in­tuition had failed him this time. Whenever the word "battle" was spoken, his intuition was usually right on target as to where they were headed. But the young bridegroom's mind had been far away from the current situation for some time. He ran into a number of men dashing from the samurai neighborhoods, shouldering their armor.

A group of horsemen raced from the castle. While he didn't know what was going on, Tokichiro had a premonition that the battlefield would be far away.

Nene hurried home ahead of her husband.

"Kinoshita! Kinoshita!" As he approached the archers' tenement houses, somebody yelled from behind him. Turning to look, he saw that it was Inuchiyo. He was on horse­back, in the same suit of armor he had worn at Okehazama, a banner decorated with a plum-blossom crest fluttering from a thin bamboo pole fastened to his back.

"I was just coming by to call for Master Mataemon. Get yourself ready and come immediately to the assembly grounds."

"Are we marching out?" Tokichiro asked.

Inuchiyo jumped off his horse. "How did it go… later on?" Inuchiyo asked.

"What do you mean, 'How did it go?'"

“That would be better left unsaid. I was asking if you are now man and wife."

“That's nothing you need to ask about."

Inuchiyo laughed loudly. "But anyway we're going to the front. If you're late, they'll laugh at you at the assembly grounds, because you just got married."

"I don't mind being laughed at."

“An army of two thousand infantry and cavalry is marching to the Kiso River at dusk.

"We're going into Mino, then."

"There was a secret report that Saito Yoshitatsu of Inabayama suddenly became sick and died. This call to arms and the advance toward the Kiso River is a feeler to determine whether there's any truth in the story."

"Well, now, let's see. There was a lot of excitement when we heard that Yoshitatsu had gotten sick and died earlier this summer, too."

"But this time it seems to be true. And regardless, from the clan's standpoint Yoshitatsu murdered Lord Nobunaga's father-in-law, Lord Dosan. In terms of morality, he's the enemy, and we cannot live with him under the same sky; and if the clan is to gain the center of the field, we must have a foothold in Mino."

"That day is coming soon, isn't it?"

"Soon? We're leaving for the Kiso tonight."

"No. Not yet, not yet. I doubt if His Lordship will attack yet."

"The armies are under the commands of Lord Katsuie and Lord Nobumori; His Lordship will not go out in person."

"But even if Yoshitatsu is dead, and even if his son, Tatsuoki, is a fool, the Three Men of Mino—Ando, Inaba, and Ujiie—are still alive. Plus, while there is still a man like Takenaka Hanbei, who is said to be living in seclusion on Mount Kurihara, it's not going to be done so easily."

"Takenaka Hanbei?" Inuchiyo cocked his head to one side. "The names of the Three Men have echoed for a long time even in neighboring provinces, but is this Takenaka Hanbei so formidable?"

"Most people have never heard of him; I'm his only admirer here in Owari."

"How do you know things like this?"

"I was in Mino for a long time, and…" Tokichiro stopped in midsentence. He had never told Inuchiyo of his experiences as a peddler, the time he spent with Koroku in Hachisuka, and of his spying in Inabayama.

"Well, we've lost time." Inuchiyo remounted.

"See you at the assembly grounds."

"Right. Later." The two men sped away from each other, toward opposite ends of the neighborhood.

"Hello! I'm home!" Whenever he returned home, he always yelled out loudly at the entrance before going in. This way, they would all know that the son-in-law of the house had returned—from the servant working in the storage room to the corners of the kitchen. But today Tokichiro did not wait for people to come out and greet him.

When he entered the room, Tokichiro was struck by what he saw. A new mat had been spread out on the floor, and his armor chest placed on top of it. Naturally enough, his gloves, shin guards, body armor, and waistband were there, but also some medicine for wounds, a brace, and an ammunition pouch—everything he would need to take with him was laid out in order. "Your equipment," said Nene.

"Very good! Very good!" He praised her without thinking, but was suddenly struck with the thought that he hadn't yet judged this woman correctly. She was even more ca­pable than he had perceived before marrying her.

When he had finished putting on his armor, Nene told him not to worry about her. She had taken out and arranged the earthenware cup for sacred sake.

"Take care of everything, please, while I'm away."

"Of course."

"There's no time to say good-bye to your father. Would you do it for me?"

"My mother took Oyaya to Tsushima Temple, and they still haven't returned. Father's been ordered to duty at the castle, and sent a message a while ago that he won't be coming home tonight."

"Won't you be lonely?"

She turned away but did not cry.

She looked like a flower caught by the wind with the heavy helmet on her lap. Toki-chiro took it from her, and as he put it on, the fragrance of aloeswood unexpectedly filled the air. He smiled at his wife appreciatively, tightly knotting the scented cords.

3 FIFTH YEAR OF EIROKU 1562

Characters and Places

Saito Tatsuoki, lord of Mino

Oyaya, Nene's sister

Sakuma Nobumori, senior Oda retainer

Ekei, Buddhist monk from

the western provinces

Osawa Jirozaemon, lord of Unuma Castle

and senior Saito retainer

Hikoemon, name given to Hachisuka

Koroku when he became Hideyoshi's ward

Takenaka Hanbei, lord of Mount Bodai Castle

and senior Saito retainer

Oyu, Hanbei's sister

Kokuma, Hanbei's servant

Horio Mosuke, Hideyoshi's page

Hosokawa Fujitaka, retainer of the shogun

Yoshiaki, fourteenth Ashikaga shogun

Asakura Kageyuki, general of the Asakura clan

Inabayama, capital of Mino

Mount Kurihara, mountain retreat of Takenaka Hanbei

Sunomata, castle built by Hideyoshi

Gifu, name given to Inabayama by Nobunaga

Ichijogadani, main castle of the Asakura clan

A Castle Built on Water

In those days the streets of the castle town of Kiyosu rang with the voices of children singing a rhyme about Nobunaga's retainers:

Cotton Tokichi

Rice Goroza

Sneaky Katsuie

Out in the cold, Nobumori

"Cotton Tokichi"—Kinoshita Tokichiro—was riding out as the general of a small army. Although the soldiers should have been marching out in splendid array, the morale was low, and they lacked spirit. When Shibata Katsuie and Sakuma Nobumo had left for Sunomata, the army had marched out to the sound of drums, with a flourish of banners. In comparison, Tokichiro looked like the leader of an inspection tour of the province, or perhaps of a relief detachment for the front.

A couple of leagues from Kiyosu, a lone rider came chasing after them from the castle, calling to them to wait.

The man leading the packhorse train looked back and said, "It's Master Maeda Inichiyo." He sent a man to the head of the column to inform Tokichiro.

The order to rest was passed along the line. They had hardly walked far enough to work up a sweat, but the officers and men were halfhearted about the whole affair. It was an army that did not believe in the possibility of victory. And if one looked at the faces of the rank and file, one could see they were uneasy and showed no trace of a will to fight.

Inuchiyo dismounted and walked through the ranks, listening to the soldiers' talk.

"Hey! We can rest."

"Already?"

"Don't say that. A rest is all right anytime."

"Inuchiyo?"

As soon as Tokichiro saw his friend, he dismounted and rushed to greet him.

"The battle you're headed for will be the turning point for the Oda clan," Inuchiyo said suddenly. "I have absolute faith in you, but the expedition is unpopular among the retainers, and the unease in the town is extraordinary. I chased after you to say good-bye. But listen, Tokichiro, becoming a general and leading an army is very different from your previous jobs. Come on, Tokichiro, are you really prepared?"

"Don't worry." Tokichiro showed his resolve with a firm nod of the head, and added, "I have a plan."

When Inuchiyo learned what that plan was, however, he frowned. "I had heard you sent Gonzo with a message to Hachisuka, right after you received His Lordship's orders."

"You know about that? It was absolutely secret."

"The truth is, I heard it from Nene."

"A woman's mouth always leaks, doesn't it? That's a little scary."

"No. Just as I was looking in through the gate to congratulate you on your appoint­ment, I overheard Nene talking to Gonzo. She had just come back from a visit to Atsuta Shrine to pray for your success."

"In that case, you have some idea of what I'm going to do."

"Well, do you think these bandits you're asking to be your allies are reliable? What happens if you don't pull it off?"

"I will."

"Well, I don't know what you're using as bait, but did their chief give any indication that he agreed to your proposal?"

"I don't want the others to hear."

"It's a secret, is it?"

"Look at this." Tokichiro took out a letter from under his armor and handed it silently to Inuchiyo. It was the answer from Hachisuka Koroku that Gonzo had brought back the night before. Inuchiyo read it silently, but as he returned it, he looked at Toki­chiro in surprise. For a while he did not know what to say.

"You understand, I guess."

"Tokichiro, isn't this a letter of refusal? It says that the Hachisuka clan has had a relationship with the Saito clan for generations, and to break with them now and support the Oda clan would be immoral. It's clearly a refusal. How do you read it?"

"Just as it is written." Tokichiro suddenly hung his head. "It troubles me to speak so bluntly after you've shown your friendship by coming after me this far. But if you have the least bit of consideration, please just do your duty at the castle while I'm gone and don't worry."

"If you can say that, you must have faith in yourself. Well then, take care."

"I'm obliged." Tokichiro ordered the samurai at his side to bring Inuchiyo's horse.

"No, don't stand on formality. Go on ahead."

As Tokichiro remounted, Inuchiyo's steed was led up as well. "Until we meet again." Once more waving from horseback, Tokichiro rode straight ahead.

Several unmarked red banners passed before Inuchiyo's eyes. Tokichiro turned and smiled at him. Red dragonflies peacefully flitted through the blue sky. Without another word, Inuchiyo turned his horse in the direction of Kiyosu Castle.

*   *   *

The moss was surprisingly thick. One might look into the spacious garden of the Hachisuka clan's mansion, so like the temple gardens that one is forbidden to enter, and wonder how many centuries old the green moss actually was. Thickets of bamboo stood in the shade of large rocks. It was a fall afternoon, and absolutely quiet.

It's survived, that's for sure, Hachisuka Koroku would reflect when he went into the garden. It reminded him of the link with his ancestors, who had lived in Hachisuka for generations. Is my generation, too, going to pass without establishing a respectable family name? On the other hand, he consoled himself, in such times as these, my ancestors might appreciate my holding on to what I have. But there was always one part of his character that refused to be persuaded.

On such peaceful days, when one gazed at this old house that was just like a castle, surrounded on all four sides by thick, luxuriant greenery, it was impossible to believe that the lord of this place was just the master of a band of ronin, leading several thousand wolflike warriors who haunted the backroads of an unsettled land. Working secretly in both Owari and Mino, Koroku had managed to secure a power base and enough influence to resist the will of Nobunaga.

Walking across the garden, Koroku suddenly turned toward the main house and called out, "Kameichi! Get ready and come out here."

Koroku's eldest son, Kameichi, was eleven years old. When he heard his father's voice he took two practice spears and went out into the garden.

"What were you doing?"

"Reading."

"If you're addicted to reading books, you're going to neglect the martial arts, are you?"

Kameichi averted his eyes. The boy was different from his powerfully built father, a his character leaned toward the intellectual and gentle. As far as the world could tell, Koroku had a worthy heir, but he was actually unhappy with his son. The more than two thousand ronin under his command were mostly uneducated, wild country warriors.  If the clan's leader was not able to control them, the Hachisuka would vanish. It is a natural principle among wild animals that the weak become meals for the strong.

Every time Koroku looked at this son, who resembled him so little, he feared that this was the end of his family line, and deplored Kameichi's gentle nature and scholarly bent. Whenever he had even a little leisure, he would call the boy into the garden and try to pour some of his own fierce fighting spirit into him through the martial arts.

"Take a spear."

“Yes, sir.”

“Adopt the usual stance and strike without thinking of me as your father." Koroku leveled his own spear and charged toward his son as though he were an adult.

Kameichi's weak-spirited eyes shrank at his father's terrifying voice, and he retreated, Koroku's unmerciful spear struck Kameichi's shoulder hard. Kameichi screamed and dopped to the ground in a dead faint.

Running into the garden from the house, Koroku's wife, Matsunami, was beside herself. "Where did he hit you? Kameichi! Kameichi!" Obviously angered at her husband's rough treatment of her son, she called abruptly to the servants for water and medicine.

"You fool!" Koroku scolded her. "Why are you crying and consoling him? Kameichi is weakling because you've brought him up that way. He's not going to die. Get away from him!

The servants who had brought the water and medicine simply looked with blank expressions at Koroku's severe face, and kept their distance.

Matsunami wiped her tears. With the same handkerchief she pressed down on the blood that flowed from Kameichi's lip as she cradled him in her arms. He had either bitten his lip when his father had struck him, or it had been cut by a rock when he fell.

"It must hurt. Were you hit somewhere else?" She never quarrelled with her husband, regardless of how displeased or excited she felt. Like any woman of her day, her only weapons were her tears.

Kameichi finally regained consciousness. "I'm all right, Mother. It was nothing. Go away." Picking up his spear and gritting his teeth in pain, he got up again, for the first time demonstrating a manliness that must have delighted his father.

"Ready!" he shouted.

A smile softened his father's face. "Come at me with that kind of spirit," he encouraged him anew.

At that moment a retainer ran in through the gate. Turning to Koroku, he announced that a man claiming to be a messenger from Oda Nobunaga had just tied his horse at the main gate and said that he absolutely must speak with Koroku in private. What should be done with him, the retainer wanted to know. "And he's a little strange," he added. "He walked in casually through the gate alone, without any ceremony, looking around as though he were familiar with the place, saying things like, ‘Ah, it's just like home,' 'The turtledoves are cooing as always,' and 'That persimmon tree has gotten big.' Somehow it's hard to believe he's an Oda messenger."

Koroku cocked his head to one side. After a moment he asked, "What's his name?"

"Kinoshita Tokichiro."

"Ah!" Suddenly it was as though his doubts had melted. "Is that so? Now I understand. This must be the man who sent that message earlier. There's no need for me to meet him. Send him away!"

The retainer ran off to throw Tokichiro out.

"I have a request," said Matsunami. "Please excuse Kameichi from practice just for today. He still looks a little pale. And his lip is swollen."

"Hm. Well, take him along." Koroku left both the spear and his son with his wife. Don't spoil him too much. And don't give him a lot of books, thinking you're doing him favor."

Koroku walked toward the house, and was about to untie his sandals on the steppingstone, when the retainer ran up again.

"Master, this man is getting stranger and stranger. He refuses to go away. Not only that, but he walked through a side gate, went right into the stables, stopped a groom and a garden sweeper, and was talking with them as though he had known them for a long time."

"Throw him out. Why are you being so easy on someone coming around from the Oda clan?"

"No, I even went beyond what you told me, but when the men spilled out of the barracks and threatened to throw him over the mud wall, he asked me to talk to you one more time. He said that if I told you he was the Hiyoshi you met ten years ago at the Yahagi River, you would certainly remember. Then he stood there looking like you couldn't budge him with a lever."

"The Yahagi River?" Koroku couldn't remember at all.

"You don't remember?"

"No."

"Well then, this fellow must be really strange. He's just rambling on in desperation. Shall I rough him up good, slap his horse, and chase him back to Kiyosu?"

It was obvious the man was getting annoyed at being a messenger again and again. With a look that said, just wait and see, he turned and had run as far as the wooden gate when Koroku, who was standing on the steps to the house, called out and stopped him.

"Wait!"

"Yes, is there something else?"

"Wait a minute. You don't think it could be Monkey?"

"You know the name? He said to tell you it was Monkey if you didn't remember Hiyoshi."

"It is Monkey, then," Koroku said.

"Do you know him?" the retainer asked.

"He was a quick-witted kid we kept here for a while. He swept the garden and took care of Kameichi."

"But isn't it strange that he's come here as a messenger from Oda Nobunaga?"

"That makes no sense to me either, but what does he look like?"

"Respectable."

"Oh?"

He wears a short coat over his armor, and it looks as though he's come quite a dis­tance. Both his saddle and stirrups are covered with mud, and he's got a wicker basket for meals and other travel supplies on his saddle."

"Well, let him in and we'll see."

"Let him in?"

“Just to make sure, let's take a look at his face." Koroku sat on the veranda and waited.

It was a distance of only a few leagues from Nobunaga's castle to Hachisuka. By rights, the village should have been part of the Oda domain, but Koroku did not recog­nize Nobunaga, nor did he receive a stipend from the Oda clan. His father and the Saito of Mino had supported each other, and the sense of loyalty among ronin was a strong one. Actually, in those troubled days, they esteemed loyalty and chivalry, along with their honor, even more than did the samurai houses. Although they were fated to live as savage plunderers, these ronin were bound together like father and children, so that disloyalty and dishonesty were not tolerated. Koroku was like the head of a large family, and he was the very source of these iron rules of conduct.

Dosan's murder and Yoshitatsu's death the previous year had caused one problem after another in Mino. And there had been repercussions for Koroku as well. The stipend paid to the Hachisuka while Dosan was alive had been cut off after the Oda blocked all the roads from Owari into Mino. But even so, Koroku was not going to forget his sense of loyalty. On the contrary, his enmity toward the Oda intensified, and in recent years he had indirectly aided defections from Nobunaga's camp and had been one of the major plotters of agitation in the Oda domain.

"I've brought him in," the retainer said from the wooden gate. Just in case, five or six of Koroku's men surrounded Tokichiro as he came in.

Koroku glowered at him. "Come here," he said, with an imperious nod.

An ordinary-looking man stood before Koroku. His salutation was also ordinary. "Well, it's been a long time."

Koroku stared fixedly at him. "Sure enough, it's Monkey. Your face hasn't changed much."

In contrast to his face, Koroku could not help being surprised by the transformation in Tokichiro's clothes. Koroku now clearly recalled that night ten years ago near the Yahagi River, when Tokichiro, dressed in a dirty cotton tunic, his neck, hands, and feet covered with grime, had been sleeping by the riverbank. When a soldier had shaken him awake, he had responded with such big words and such fighting spirit that they had all wondered who he could be. Under the light of the soldier's lanterns, he had turned out to be noth­ing more than a strange-looking youth.

Tokichiro spoke humbly, seemingly without any sense of the distinction between his former and present status. "Well, I've been quite negligent since I left. It's good to see that you're in your usual good health. I'll bet Master Kameichi has grown up. And your wife is well, too? You know, coming back here for a visit, ten years seem like an instant."

Then, looking around at the trees in the garden with heartfelt emotion and staring at the roofs of the buildings, he talked on and on about his recollections of scooping water from that stone well every day, of being scolded by the master, perhaps, next to that stone, of carrying Kameichi around on his back, and of catching cicadas for him.

Koroku, however, did not seem to be moved in the least by such memories. Rather, he focused on Tokichiro's every movement and finally spoke sharply. "Monkey," he said, addressing Tokichiro as he had done long before, "have you become a samurai?" It was obvious, though, from Tokichiro's appearance, that he had. Tokichiro, however, was not in the least disconcerted.

"Yes. As you can see, I still receive only an insignificant stipend, but somehow I'm on the verge of becoming a samurai. I hope you're pleased. In fact, today I rushed all the way from my post at the camp at Sunomata, partly because I thought you might be pleased about my promotion."

Koroku displayed a forced smile. "These are good times, aren't they? There are even people who will hire men like you as samurai. Who's your master?"

"Lord Oda Nobunaga."

"That bully?"

"By the way…" Tokichiro changed the tone of his voice a little. "I've digressed a bit about my personal affairs, but today I've come as Kinoshita Tokichiro, on the orders of Lord Nobunaga."

"Is that so? You're an envoy?"

"I'm coming in. Excuse me." With that, Tokichiro took off his sandals, went up the steps of the veranda where Koroku was sitting, and sat down, taking the seat of honor in the room for himself.

"Huh!" Koroku grunted and sat unmoving, right where he was. He had not invited him to come in, and yet Tokichiro had marched up unhesitatingly and sat down. Korok turned toward him and said, "Monkey?"

Though Tokichiro had answered to this name before, this time he refused. He simply stared fixedly at Koroku, who teased him for his childishness. "Come, come now, Monkey. You've suddenly changed your attitude, but," he said, "until now you've been talking to me like an ordinary person. Do you want to go through the formality of being addressed as Nobunaga's envoy from now on?"

"That's correct."

"Well, then, go home immediately. Get out of here, Monkey!" Koroku rose an stepped down to the garden. His voice had taken on a rough edge, and he had a dangerous look in his eye. "Your Lord Nobunaga may think that Hachisuka is within his territory, but nearly all of Kaito is run by me. I don't recall that I or any of my forebears have ever received a single grain of millet from Nobunaga. For him to look at me with the air of a lord of a province is the height of absurdity. Go home, Monkey. And if you say something rude, I'll kill you!" He glared at him and went on, "When you get back, tell this to Nobunaga: he and I are equals. If he has some business with me, he can come himself. Do you understand, Monkey?"

"No."

"What!"

"It's a shame. Are you really nothing more than the chief of a gang of ignorant bandits?"

"Wha-what! How dare you!" Koroku jumped back up into the room, facing Tokichiro with a hand on the guard of his sword. "Monkey, say that again."

"Sit down."

"Shut up!"

“No, sit down. I have something to say to you."

"Hold your tongue!"

“No, I'm going to show you your own ignorance. I have something to teach you. Sit down!"

"You—"

Wait, Koroku. If you're going to kill me, this is the place, and you're the person to do it, so I don't suppose there's any reason to hurry. But if you cut me down, who's going teach you anything?"

“You-you're crazy!"

"Anyway, sit down. Come on, sit down. Put away your petty selfishness. What I want to tell you is not just about Lord Nobunaga and his relationship with the Hachisuka clan. It starts with the fact that you were both born in this country of Japan. According to you, Nobunaga is not the lord of this province. Now these are quite reasonable words, and I agree with you. But what I find impertinent is your claim that Hachisuka is your own domain. You're mistaken."

"How's that?"

"Any piece of land that is said to be personal property, whether it be Hachisuka or Owari, or any bay or inlet, or even a single clod of earth, is no longer a part of the Em­pire. Isn't that correct, Koroku?"

"Hm."

"With all due respect, to speak this way about His Imperial Majesty—the true owner of all land—no, to be standing over me, grasping a sword in front of me as I tell you this, is an act of the grossest disrespect, is it not? Even a commoner wouldn't behave that way, and you're the leader of three thousand ronin, aren't you? Sit down and listen!"

Rather than arising from courage, this last shout sounded more as though it had exploded from his entire being. Just then, someone yelled from inside the house. "Master Koroku, sit down! You can't do otherwise!"

Who was that? Koroku wondered as he turned. Surprised, Tokichiro also looked in he direction of the voice. In the green light shining from the central garden, someone could be seen lingering in the entrance to the corridor inside. Half of the man's body was hidden in the shade of the wall. They could not tell who he was, but at a glance, he seemed to be wearing the robes of a priest. "Oh, it's Master Ekei, isn't it?" Koroku said.

"That's right. It was rude of me to yell from outside, but I was concerned about what you two were arguing about so loudly," Ekei said, still standing there with what seemed to be a half smile on his face.

Koroku spoke calmly. "I'm sure that we disturbed you terribly. Please forgive me, Your Reverence. I'm going to toss out this impudent fellow right away."

"Wait, Master Koroku." Ekei stepped into the room. "You're being rude." Ekei was a traveling monk of about forty years of age who had stopped here as a guest. He had the physique of a broad-shouldered warrior. His large mouth was especially striking. At the hint that this monk, who was staying as a guest in his own house, might be taking Tokichiro's side, Koroku looked straight at him. "How am I being rude?"

"Well now. There's a reason not to turn your back on the words of this envoy here, Master Tokichiro has stated that neither this area nor the province of Owari belongs to Nobunaga or the Hachisuka, but rather to His Majesty the Emperor. Can you definitely state that this is not true? You can't. To express dissatisfaction with that national polity is the same as harboring treason against His Majesty, and this is what he's saying. So sit down for a moment, bend to the truth, and listen carefully to what this messenger has to say. After that, you can decide whether it's right to chase him away or to accede to his request. This is my humble opinion." Koroku was hardly an uneducated, ignorant bandit. He had the rudiments of an

education in Japanese literature and he knew Japanese traditions, and from what blood­lines his own lineage flowed.

"I beg your pardon. It makes no difference who is speaking; it's foolish of me to oppose the principle of moral obligation. I shall hear what the envoy has to say."

When he saw that Koroku had settled down and was seated, Ekei was satisfied. "Well then, it would be rude of me to stay here, so I'll withdraw. But, Master Koroku, before you give this messenger an answer, I'd like you to stop by my room for just a moment. There's something I'd like to tell you." With that, he left.

Koroku nodded to him and then turned again toward the envoy, Tokichiro, and corrected himself. "Monkey—no, I mean Lord Oda's honorable envoy—what sort of busi­ness do you have with me? Let's hear it briefly."

Tokichiro unconsciously moistened his lips and considered that this was the turning point. Would he be able to persuade this man with an eloquent tongue and a cool head? The construction of the castle at Sunomata, the rest of his life, and, in its turn, the rise or fall of his master's clan—everything hinged on whether Koroku would say yes or no. Tokichiro was tense.

"In fact, this is not a different matter. It has to do with my previous inquiry, sent through my servant, Gonzo, about to your intentions."

"Concerning that matter, I absolutely refuse, just as I wrote in my reply. Did you see my reply or didn't you?" Koroku cut him off bluntly.

"I saw it." When he saw how unbending his opponent was, Tokichiro hung his head meekly. "But Gonzo delivered a letter from me. Today I'm delivering the request of Lord Nobunaga."

"It doesn't make any difference who asks, I have no intention of supporting the Oda clan. I don't need to write two answers."

"Well then, are you planning on leading the family line that your ancestors left to you to its regrettable destruction in your own generation and on this very land?"

"What?"

"Don't get angry. I, myself, received the favor of lodging and meals here ten years ago. In a larger sense, it's a great pity that people like you are hidden out here in the wilds and put to no use. Thinking of this in terms of both the public interest and my own, I thought it would be a shame if the Hachisuka went down to isolated self-destruction. So I came here as a last resort, in order to return the old favor that I owe you."

"Tokichiro."

"Yes?"

“You're still young. You don't have the capacity of running errands for your master with an eloquent tongue. You're just making your opponent angry, and I really don't want to get angry at a youngster like you. Why don't you leave before you've gone too far?"

“I’m not going to leave until I've had my say."

“I appreciate your enthusiasm, but this is the forcefulness of a fool."

“Thank you. But great achievements beyond human strength generally resemble the forcefulness of fools. Nevertheless, wise men don't take the road of wisdom. For example, imagine that you consider yourself wiser than me. But when looked at objectively, you're just like the fool who sits on the roof and watches his own house burn down. You're still stubborn, even though the fire's spreading on all four sides. And you only have three thousand ronin !"

"Monkey! Your slender neck is getting closer and closer to my sword!"

"What? It's my neck that's in danger? Even if you remain loyal to the Saito, what kind of people are they? They have committed every treachery and every atrocity. Do you think there are any other provinces with such degenerate morals? Don't you have a son? Don't you have a family? Take a look at Mikawa. Lord Ieyasu has already bound himself to the Oda clan in an unbreakable alliance. When the Saito clan collapses, if you rely on the Imagawa, you'll be intercepted by the Tokugawa; if you ask for aid from Ise, you'll be surrounded by the Oda. No matter which clan you choose as your ally, how will you pro­tect your family? All that remain are isolation and self-destruction, isn't that right?"

Koroku was silent now, almost as though he were dumbstruck, almost as though he had been taken in by Tokichiro's eloquence. But even though Tokichiro's sincerity showed on his face as he spoke, he never glared at his opponent or became overbearing. And sin­cerity, even if it speaks with a stutter, will sound eloquent when inspired.

"I'm asking you once again to reconsider. There's not an intelligent person under the sun who doesn't look askance at the immorality and misrule of Mino. By allying yourself with a faithless and lawless province, you're inviting your own destruction. Once you've accomplished this, do you think anyone is going to praise you as a man who died a mar­tyr's death in the true Way of the Samurai? It would be better to end this worthless al­liance, and meet once with my master, Lord Nobunaga. Although it's said these days that the entire country is filled with warriors, there's not one in the land with Lord Nobunaga's genius. Do you think things are going to continue as they are? It's a disrespectful thing to say, but the shogunate is at the end of the road. No one obeys the shogun, and his officials are unable to rule. Every province has withdrawn into itself, each one strengthening its own territory, supporting its own warriors, sharpening its weapons, and laying up stocks of firearms. The only way to survive today is to know who among those many rival warlords is trying to establish a new order."

For the first time, Koroku gave a single reluctant nod of assent.

Tokichiro drew closer to Koroku. "That man is among us now, and he is a man of vision. Only common men cannot see it. You've taken a loyal stand with the Saito clan, but you're so concerned with minor loyalty that you're overlooking the greater loyalty. This is regrettable for both you and Lord Nobunaga. Wipe the little things away from your mind, and think about the bigger scheme. The time is right. Unworthy as I am, I've been or­dered to build the castle at Sunomata, and with that as a foothold, I've been given the command of the vanguard to strike into Mino. The Oda clan is not poor in clever or brave commanders, and for Lord Nobunaga to appoint an underling like me among them is daring, and indicates that he is not an ordinary lord like the others. Contained within Lord Nobunaga's orders is the implication that the castle at Sunomata will be commanded by the man who builds it. For people like us, is there any other time to rise up but now? I say this, but there's nothing that's going to be done with one individual's strength. No, I'm not going to embellish my words. I thought that I could put this op­portunity to use, and I've gambled my life in coming here to draw you out. If I've been mistaken, I'm resolved to die. But I didn't come here empty-handed. It isn't much, but for

the moment I brought three horses loaded with gold and silver as compensation and military expenses for your men. I'd be grateful if you'd accept it." As Tokichiro finished speaking, someone addressed Koroku from the garden.

"Uncle."

A samurai prostrated himself as he spoke.

"Who's calling me 'Uncle'?"

Koroku thought this was strange, and looked carefully at the warrior.

"It's been a long time," the man said, looking up.

There was no doubt that Koroku was startled. He spoke out without intending to do so. "Tenzo?"

"I'm ashamed to say that it's me."

"What are you doing here?"

"I didn't think I would ever see you again, but owing to Master Tokichiro's compassion, I was ordered to accompany him on today's mission."

"What? You came together?"

"After I turned against you and ran away from Hachisuka, I stayed with the Takeda clan in the province of Kai for many years, working as a ninja. Then, about three years ago, I was ordered to spy on the Oda, and so I went to the castle town of Kiyosu. While there, I was discovered by Lord Nobunaga's police and thrown into prison. I was released through the good offices of Master Tokichiro."

"So now you're Master Tokichiro's attendant?"

"No, after I was let out of prison—and with Master Tokichiro's help—I worked with the Oda ninja. But when Master Tokichiro set out for Sunomata, I asked to accompany him."

"Oh?" Koroku absentmindedly stared his nephew. What had changed even more than Tenzo's appearance was his character. That uncontrollable nephew, who was so brutal and barbarous even by the Hachisuka's standards, was no longer recognizable. Now he was courteous and mild-eyed, regretting and apologizing for his former crimes. Ten years ago—it was really ten years—Koroku could have torn him limb from limb!

Angered at his nephew's evil deeds, he had chased Tenzo as far as the Kai border to punish him. But now, when he looked at Tenzo's steadfast eyes, he was hardly even able to recall his anger. This was not just the sympathy of a blood relative: Tenzo's personality had definitely changed.

“Well, I didn't say anything about this because I thought we would talk about it later,” Tokichiro said, "but out of consideration for me, I'd like you to forgive your nephew. Tenzo is now an irreproachable retainer of the Oda. He himself has apologized for his former crimes. He's often told me that he wanted to apologize to you in person but was too ashamed of his former deeds to come here. And, since there were other matters to take care of in Hachisuka, I thought this might be the perfect opportunity. Please let the relationship between uncle and nephew be as harmonious as it was before, and look to a prosperous future."

As Tokichiro mediated from the side, even Koroku did not feel like badgering his nephew for his crimes of ten years before. And as Koroku began to open his heart, Tokichiro did not let the moment go by.

"Tenzo, did you bring in the gold and silver?" When he spoke to Tenzo, it was naturally in the tone of command.

"Yes, sir."

"Well, let's take a look at it along with the inventory. Tenzo, have a servant bring it here.

"Yes, sir."

As Tenzo started off, Koroku called out hurriedly, "Wait, Tenzo. I can't accept this. If I did, it would mean that I was promising to serve the Oda clan. Wait a bit until I've thought the matter over." His flushed complexion showed his anguish. With these words, then, he stood up abruptly and went inside.

Having returned to his room, Ekei had been writing in his travel journal, but now he suddenly stood up.

"Master Koroku?" Ekei said, looking in at Koroku's room, but the man was not to be seen. He went to the chapel and peeked inside, and there was Koroku, seated before the mortuary tablet of his ancestors, with his arms folded.

"Did you give an answer to Lord Nobunaga's envoy?"

"He hasn't gone yet, but the more I talked to him, the more troublesome it became, so I'm just going to leave him where he is."

"He probably won't just go away." Ekei finished speaking, but Koroku remained silent. "Master Koroku," Ekei finally said.

"What?"

"I've heard that the envoy today used to be employed here as a servant."

"I only knew him as 'Monkey' and had no idea where he was from. I picked him up around the Yahagi River and gave him a job."

"That's no good."

"No good?"

"The memory of the time when he served you has become an obstacle, and you can't see the true form of the man today."

"Do you suppose that's true?"

"I've never been so surprised as I was today."

"Why?"

"Just looking at the face of that envoy. His features are what the world would call quite unusual. Studying people's features is merely a hobby, and when I judge a man's character by looking at him, I usually keep my conclusions to myself. But in this case I was shocked. Someday this man is going to do something extraordinary."

"That monkey-face?"

"Yes, indeed. That man may move the entire country someday. If he were not in this Empire of the Rising Sun, then perhaps he might become a sovereign."

"What are you saying?"

"I thought you wouldn't take his request seriously, so I'm telling you this before you decide. Put away your preconceptions. When you look at a man, look with your heart, ot your eyes. If that man leaves with your refusal today, you're going to regret it for the next hundred years."

"How can you say such a thing about a man you've never even met before?"

"I'm not saying this just from looking at his face. I was surprised when I heard his explanation of the way of justice and righteousness. And his refusal to give in to your derision and threats, while refuting you with sincerity and good faith, shows him to be a passionate, upright man. I believe without a doubt that he will one day be a man of great distinction."

Koroku immediately prostrated himself in front of Ekei and said firmly, "I submit humbly to your words. Quite frankly, if I compare my own character with his, mine is clearly inferior. I'll discard my petty egotism and immediately give him a positive answer. I'm extremely grateful for your advice."

He went off, his eyes gleaming, as though he himself had witnessed the birth of a new era.

Hours after Tokichiro's arrival in Hachisuka, two riders hurried through the night toward Kiyosu. As yet, no one knew that the riders were Koroku and Tokichiro. Later that night, Nobunaga talked to the two men in a small room in the castle. Their secret conversation lasted several hours. Only a select few, including Tenzo, knew the reason for their visit.

The following day Koroku called a council of war. All those who answered the call were ronin. They had been under Koroku's command for many years, and they acknowledged his authority in the same way the great provincial lords obeyed the shogun's de­crees. Each leader headed a pack of warriors in his own village or mountain stronghold, and waited for the day when they would be needed. Every one of them was surprised by the presence of Watanabe Tenzo of Mikuriya, who, ten years before, had rebelled against their leader.

When the men took their seats, Koroku told them of his decision to abandon his alliance with the Saito clan and switch his allegiance to the Oda. At the same time, he explained the circumstances of his nephew's return. At the end of his address he said, "I imagine some of you will disapprove, and others have close ties with the Saito. I am not going to force you. You may leave without hesitation, and I will not bear a grudge against anyone who crosses over to Mino."

No one, however, got up to leave. In fact, no one showed what he really felt. At this point, asking Koroku's permission, Tokichiro spoke to the men.

"I have received instructions from Lord Nobunaga to build a castle at Sunomata. Until now, I imagine that each of you has lived as he pleased, but have you ever occupied a castle? The world is changing. The mountains and valleys where you can live freely are disappearing. If this were not so, there would be no progress. You've been able to live as ronin because the shogun is powerless. But do you think the shogunate will be able to survive much longer? The nation is changing; a new era is dawning. We will no longer be living for ourselves, but rather for our children and our grandchildren. You have a chance to establish your own households, to become real warriors following the true Way of the Samurai. Do not let this moment pass you by."

When he had finished, the entire room was silent. But there were no signs of discontent. These men, who ordinarily lived without giving much thought to the future, were reflecting on his words.

One man broke the silence: "I have no objection."

He was followed by the others who made the same reply, and all the voices in the room were raised in agreement. They knew they were risking their lives by committing imselves to the Oda, and a fierce resolution burned in their eyes.

*  *  *

The sound of an ax cutting a tree… then a splash as the tree falls into the Kiso River. A raft is lashed together and pushed out into the current, where it flows downstream to meet the waters of the Ibi and Yabu rivers coming from the north and west, and then comes to a broad sandbar crisscrossed by waterways: Sunomata. The boundary between Mino and Owari. The site for the castle, on which Sakuma Nobumori, Shibata Katsuie, and Oda Kageyu all had met with identical failure.

"What a stupid waste of time. They might as well be sunk in a stone ship under the sea!" From the far bank, the soldiers of the Saito looked across the river, shading their :s with their hands and joking.

"This is the fourth time."

"They still haven't learned."

"Who's the General of the Dead this time? It's kind of sad, even though he is the enemy. I'll remember his name, if nothing else."

"He's called something like Kinoshita Tokichiro. I've never heard of him."

"Kinoshita… he's the one they call Monkey. He's just a low-ranking officer. He can't beworth more than fifty or sixty kan."

"A low-ranking fool like that is their general? The enemy can't really be serious, then."

"Maybe it's a trick."

"Could be. They could have a plan to draw our attention here, and then cross over somewhere else."

The more the soldiers of Mino looked at the construction on the opposite bank, the less seriously they took it. About one month passed. Tokichiro led the spirited ronin of Hachisuka, who had begun to work as soon as they had arrived. It had rained heavily two or three times, but that made it all the easier to float timber rafts. Even when the river overflowed the sandbar one night the men rallied as though it were nothing. Would the rain clouds come before they could finish the earthen enclosure? Would nature win, or would man?

The ronin worked as though they had forgotten how to eat or sleep. The two thousand who had departed from Hachisuka had swelled to five or six thousand by the time they reached their destination.

Tokichiro hardly needed his general's baton. The men were alert and hardworking, and day by day the work advanced right before his eyes.

The ronin were used to traveling through the mountains and plains. And they unstood the laws of flood regulation and earthwork construction far better than Tokichiro did.

Their aim was to make this place their own. With this work, they took a leap away from their former lives of debauchery and indolence, and felt the satisfaction and pleasure of knowing that they were doing something real.

"Well, this embankment is not going to budge, even if there's a flood or the rivers flow together," one of the ronin said proudly.

Before the first month had passed, they had leveled an area larger than the castle grounds, and had even built a causeway to the mainland.

On the opposite bank, the men of Mino looked over toward the site.

"It seems to be taking shape a little, doesn't it?"

"They still haven't put up any stone walls, so it doesn't look like a castle, but the foundations have come right along."

"I can't see any carpenters or plasterers."

"I'll bet they're still a hundred days away from that."

The soldiers looked lazily across the river to relieve their boredom. The river was wide. When it was sunny, a thin mist rose from the surface of the water. It was difficult to see clearly from the other side, but occasionally there were days when the sounds of stone being cut and voices yelling from the construction site were lifted on the wind and carried from the opposite bank.

"Will we make a surprise attack this time? Right in the middle of construction work?"

"It seems not. There's a strict order from General Fuwa."

"What's that?"

"Not to fire a single shot. Let the enemy work to his heart's content."

"We've been ordered just to watch until they finish the castle?"

"The first time, the plan was to crush the enemy with a single surprise attack when he began work on the castle; the second time, to attack when the castle was half-built and smash it to smithereens. But the command this time is just to stand here and watch with our arms folded until they've finished the job."

"Then what?"

"Take the castle, of course!"

"Aha! Let the enemy build it, and then take it over."

"That seems to be the plan."

"Hey, that's clever. The other Oda generals were a bit tough, but this new comman­der, Kinoshita, is nothing more than a foot soldier." As the man wagged his tongue and prattled on happily, one of the others gave him a rebuking look.

A third man hurried into the guardhouse. A boat that had been poled down the river landed on the Mino bank. A general with bristly whiskers stepped onto the bank, fol­lowed by several attendants. A horse was led off the boat after them.

"The Tiger is coming!" one of the guards said.

The Tiger of Unuma, here!" Whispers and quick glances passed between them. This was the lord of Unuma Castle, upstream; known as one of the fiercest generals in Mino, his name was Osawa Jirozaemon. So frightening was this man that the mothers of Inabayama said, "The Tiger is coming!" to quiet their crying children. Now Osawa came strid­ing up in person, with his eyes and nose thrusting out of his tiger-like whiskers. “Is General Fuwa here?" Osawa asked.

"Yessir. At the camp."

“I wouldn't mind calling on him at his camp, but this is a better place for a talk. Call him over here immediately."

"Yessir." The soldier ran off.

Very soon, Fuwa Heishiro, followed by the soldier and five or six officers, walked briskly toward the riverbank.

"The Tiger! What does he want?" Fuwa muttered, his ill-humored strides indicating how tiresome he thought this interview was going to be.

"General Fuwa, thank you for taking the trouble to come."

"It's no trouble at all. How can I be of assistance?"

"Over there." Osawa pointed to the opposite bank.

"The enemy at Sunomata?"

"Indeed. I'm sure you're keeping watch on them day and night."

"Of course! Please rest assured that we are always on guard."

"Well, although the castle I am in charge of is upstream, I am concerned with more than just the defense of Unuma."

"Yes, of course."

"Occasionally I board a boat or walk along the shore to see what conditions are like downstream, and when I came today, I was surprised. I suppose it's too late, but when I look over this camp, it's rather carefree. What do you have in mind at this point?"

"What do you mean, 'too late'?"

"I'm saying that construction of the enemy's castle has advanced to a surprising extent. It appears that, as you've sat watching nonchalantly from this bank, the enemy has been able to build a second line of embankments, rope off a foundation, and finish about half of their stone walls."

Fuwa grunted, annoyed.

"Couldn't the carpenters already be fitting the timbers for the citadel in the mountains behind Sunomata? And couldn't they have already finished almost everything from the drawbridge to the interior fittings, not to mention the keep and walls? This is my view of the situation."

"Hm…I see."

"These days the enemy must be tired at night from the construction work they've done during the day, and they've neglected to set up defensive positions of any kind. Noto nly that, but the workers and craftsmen, who would only be an impediment during a fight, are living together with the soldiers. Now if we made a general attack, crossing the over under cover of darkness, and attacked from upstream, downstream, and straight across, we should be able to rip this thing out by its very roots. But if we're negligent, we're going to wake up some morning soon and find that a very solid castle has suddenly sprung up overnight. We should not be taken off guard."

"Indeed."

"Then you agree?"

Fuwa burst out laughing. "Really, General Osawa! Did you really call me all the way here because you were worried about that?"

"I was beginning to doubt that you had eyes, so I wanted to explain the situation to you right here at the riverbank."

"Now you've gone too far! As a military commander, you're remarkably shallow. I’m allowing the enemy to build his castle this time exactly as he wishes. Can't you see that?

"That's obvious. I suppose you plan to let them finish the castle, then attack, and use it as a foothold for Mino to gain supremacy over Owari."

"That's right."

"I'm sure those were your instructions, but it's a dangerous strategy when you don't know whom you're up against. I can't just stand by and watch the destruction of our own troops."

"Why should this mean the destruction of our troops? I don't understand."

"Clean out your ears and listen carefully to the sounds coming from the far bank, and you'll realize how far the castle construction has got. There's enough activity there for all the soldiers to be working as well. This is different from Nobumori and Katsuie. This time the baton of command has spirit. It's clear that the command has fallen to a man of real character, even if he is from the Oda."

Fuwa held his belly and laughed, ridiculing Osawa for overestimating their oppo­nents. Although they were allies and fighting on the same side, the two men were not of one mind. Osawa clicked his tongue loudly beneath his tiger's whiskers.

"It can't be helped. Well, go ahead and laugh. You'll find out." With this parting shot, he called for his horse and went off indignantly with his retainers.

It seemed that there was someone with discrimination in Mino. Osawa Jirozaemon's prediction hit the mark, before ten days had passed. The construction of the castle at Sunomata advanced rapidly within only three nights.

When the guards got up in the morning after the third night and looked across the river, the castle was nearing completion.

Fuwa rubbed his hands and said, "Shall we go and cheat them out of it?"

Fuwa's troops were skilled in night attacks and river crossings. As they had done before, they closed in on Sunomata in the dead of night, planning to take it with a surprise attack.

But the response was quite different this time. Tokichiro and his ronin were ready and waiting for them. They had built this castle with their blood and spirit. Did the Saito think they were going to give it up? The fighting style of the ronin was completely un­orthodox. Unlike Nobumori's and Katsuie's soldiers, these men were wolves. During the battle, the boats of the Mino forces were soaked with oil and set on fire. When Fuwa saw that his men did not have the advantage, he gave out the order to retreat. But by the time he had cleared the words from his hoarse throat, it was already too late.

Chased from the stone walls of the castle to the riverbank, the Mino soldiers barely escaped with their lives, leaving nearly a thousand dead. A number of the soldiers whose rafts had been destroyed were forced to flee up- and downstream, but the men of Hachisuka had no intention of letting them get away. How could the Mino troops escape from ronin who were so at home on rough terrain?

The attack stopped for the night. Fuwa doubled his forces and once again stormed Sunomata. The sandbar and river were dyed red with blood. But as the sun rose, the cas­tle garrison struck up a victory song.

"Breakfast this morning will be all the tastier!"

Fuwa became desperate, and waiting for the storm that evening, he planned his third all-out assault. The Saito troops attacked from both upstream and downstream.

Upstream at Unuma Castle, the soldiers of Osawa Jirozaemon were the only ones who did not respond to the call for a general offensive. The battle was so harrowing that even the ronin suffered heavy casualties in the surging, muddy waters of the river that night, but the Mino forces had to write off the battle as an overwhelming defeat.

Snaring the Tiger

That year saw no more surprise attacks from Mino. In the meantime, Tokichiro nearly completed the remaining construction on the interior and on the outer defenses of Sunomata Castle. Early in the first month of the following year, accompanied by Koroku, he visited Nobunaga to give him New Year's greetings while making his report.

In his absence, there had been great changes. The plan that he had once advocated had been adopted: Kiyosu Castle, poorly situated in terms of terrain and water supply, was being abandoned, and Nobunaga was moving his residence to Mount Komaki. The townspeople were also moving to be with their lord, and were building a flourishing town under Mount Komaki Castle.

When Nobunaga received Tokichiro at his new castle, he said, "I made a promise. You will take up residence at Sunomata Castle, and I am increasing your stipend to five hundred kan!' Finally, in an extraordinarily good mood at the end of their audience, Nobu­naga gave his retainer a new name: Tokichiro would henceforth be called Kinoshita Hideyoshi.

"If you can build it, the castle is yours" had been Nobunaga's original promise, but when Hideyoshi returned to report the castle's completion, Nobunaga had only said, “Take up residence there," and had mentioned nothing about its possession. It was almost the same thing, but Hideyoshi considered this as an indication that his qualifications to be the lord of a castle had not yet been proven. This he reasoned from the order given to Koroku (who had recently become a retainer of the Oda clan through Hideyoshi's own recommendation) to take up duty at Sunomata as Hideyoshi's ward. Instead of harboring a grudge against his lord for these actions, Hideyoshi simply declared, "In all humility, my lord, instead of the five hundred kan of land you have offered me, I would like your leave to conquer the same amount of land from Mino." After he had received Nobunaga's

permission, he returned to Sunomata on the seventh day of the New Year.

"We built this castle without injury to one of His Lordship's retainers and without using a single tree or rock from His Lordship's domain. Perhaps we can take the land from the enemy as well, and live off a stipend from heaven. What do you think, Hikoemon?"

Koroku had given up his ancient name and, from the New Year, had changed his name to Hikoemon.

"That would be interesting," Hikoemon replied. He was by now completely devoted ro Hideyoshi. He behaved as if he were Hideyoshi's retainer, and forgot all about their earlier relationship.

Sending out soldiers when the opportunity presented itself, Hideyoshi attacked the neighboring areas. Of course, the lands that he was taking possession of were formerly a part of Mino. The land Nobunaga had offered him was worth five hundred kan, but the land he conquered was worth more than a thousand.

When Nobunaga learned this, he said with a forced smile, "That one Monkey would be sufficient to take the entire province of Mino. There are people in this world who never complain."

Sunomata was secured. Nobunaga felt as though he had already swallowed up Mino. but even thought they had been able to encroach into Mino, the Saito heartland, which was separated from Owari by the Kiso River, was still intact.

With the new castle at Sunomata as a foothold, Nobunaga tried to break through on two occasions, but failed. He felt as though he were beating against an iron wall. But this did not surprise Hideyoshi and Hikoemon. After all, this time it was the enemy who was fighting for survival. It would have been impossible for Owari's small army to conquer Mino with normal tactics.

And there was more. After the castle was built, the enemy realized their former neglience and took a second look at Hideyoshi. This Monkey had risen out of obscurity, and although he hadn't been put to particularly good use by the Oda, he was clearly an able and resourceful warrior who knew how to employ his men well. His reputation grew in the enemy's eyes even more than in the Oda clan, and as a consequence, the enemy strengthened its defenses all the more. It knew it could no longer afford to be negligent. With two defeats, Nobunaga retreated to Mount Komaki to wait out the end of the year. But Hideyoshi did not wait. His castle had an unbroken view of the Mino Plain to the central mountains. As he stood there with arms folded, he thought, What shall we do about Mino? The large army he was going to call up was quartered not at Mount Komaki or at Sunomata, but within his mind. Coming down from the watchtower and returning to his quarters, Hideyoshi summoned Hikoemon.

Hikoemon appeared immediately, asking, "How can I be of service?" Without any thought of their former relationship, he paid his respects to the younger man as his master.

"Come a little closer, please."

"With your permission."

"The rest of you withdraw until I call you," Hideyoshi said to the samurai around m. He then turned to Hikoemon. "There's something I want to talk about."

"Yes. What is it?"

"But first," he said, lowering his voice, "I think you're more familiar with the internal conditions of Mino than I am. Where do you suppose Mino's fundamental strength lies? What prevents us from sleeping in peace at Sunomata?"

"In their ablest men, I think."

"Their ablest men. It's certain that it has nothing to do with Saito Tatsuoki."

"The Three Men of Mino swore an oath of loyalty in the time of Tatsuoki's father and grandfather."

"Who are the Three Men?"

"I think you've heard of them. There's Ando Noritoshi, the lord of Kagamijima Cas­tle." Hideyoshi put his hand on his knee and put up one finger as he nodded. "Iyo Michitomo, the lord of Sone Castle."

"Uh-huh." A second finger.

"And Ujiie Hitachinosuke, the master of Ogaki Castle." A third finger.

"Anybody else?"

"Hm." Hikoemon cocked his head to one side. "In addition to them, there's Takenaka Hanbei, but for a number of years he's stopped serving the main branch of the Saito clan and is living in seclusion somewhere on Mount Kurihara. I don't think you have to take him into account."

"Well then, first we can say that the Three Men underpin Mino's strength. Is that right?"

"I believe so."

"That's what I wanted to talk about, but don't you suppose there's some way we could pull away that support?"

"I doubt it," Hikoemon asserted. "A true man is a man of his word. He's not moved by wealth or fame. For example, if you were asked to pull out three healthy teeth, you surely wouldn't, would you?"

"It's not that clear-cut. There must be some way…," Hideyoshi answered softly. "You know, the enemy made several attacks on us during the construction of the castle, but throughout, there was one enemy general who stayed put."

"Who was that?"

"Osawa, the lord of Unuma Castle."

"Ah. That's Osawa Jirozaemon, the Tiger of Unuma."

"That man… the Tiger … I wonder if we couldn't approach him through some relative?"

"Osawa has a younger brother, Mondo," Hikoemon said. "For some years both my brother, Matajuro, and I have been on friendly terms with him."

"That's welcome news." Hideyoshi was happy enough to clap his hands. "Where does this Mondo live?"

“I think he's serving in the castle town of Inabayama."

“Send your brother at once. I wonder if he'll be able to find Mondo."

"If need be, I'll go myself," Hikoemon answered. "What's the plan?"

"Using Mondo, I'd like to alienate Osawa from the Saito clan. And then use Osawa to detach the Three Men of Mino one by one, just like pulling teeth."

"I doubt that you yourself would be able to do it, but fortunately, Mondo is not like his older brother, and is very alert to his own personal gain."

"No, Mondo is not going to be enough to move the Tiger of Unuma. We'll need another player to get that tiger into our cage. And I think we can put Tenzo to work on that."

"Brilliant! But what kind of plan do you have, using those two?"

"It's like this, Hikoemon." Hideyoshi inched closer and whispered his plan into Hachisuka Hikoemon's ear.

For a moment Hikoemon stared at Hideyoshi. A head is nothing but a head, so where did these flashes of genius come from? When he compared Hideyoshi's ingenuity with his own, Hikoemon was amazed.

"Well, I'd like to get Matajuro and Tenzo moving right away," Hideyoshi said.

"I understand. They'll be going into enemy territory, so I'll have them wait until midight to cross the river.

"I'd like you to explain the plan in detail to them and give them their orders."

"Of course, my lord."

Knowing what he had to do, Hikoemon withdrew from Hideyoshi's room. At this time, more than half the soldiers in the castle were men who had formerly been ronin from Hachisuka. Now they had settled down and become samurai.

Hikoemon's younger brother, Matajuro, and his nephew, Tenzo, received their orders from Hikoemon, disguised themselves as merchants, and left the castle late that night for the heart of enemy territory, the castle town of Inabayama. Both Tenzo and Matajuro were well suited for this kind of mission. A month later, their work done, they returned to Sunomata.

Across the river in Mino, rumors began to spread:

"There's something suspicious about the Tiger of Unuma."

"Osawa Jirozaemon has been in collusion with Owari for years."

"That's why he didn't obey Fuwa's command during the construction of the castle at Sunomata. It was supposed to be a combined effort, but he didn't move his troops at all."

The rumors triggered more speculation.

"Lord Tatsuoki is going to order Osawa Jirozaemon to Inabayama Castle soon and ask him about his responsibility for the defeat at Sunomata."

"Unuma Castle is going to be confiscated. Right after the Tiger goes to Inabayama."

These rumors spread around Mino as though they were the truth. The origin of these wildfires was Watanabe Tenzo, and behind him was Hideyoshi, who sat in the castle at Sunomata.

"Don't you think it's about the right time? Go to Unuma now," Hideyoshi said to Hikoemon. "I've written a letter I'd like you to give to Osawa."

"Yes, my lord."

"The central point is to entice him. Arrange the day and the place for the meeting."

Carrying Hideyoshi's letter, Hikoemon secretly visited Unuma.

When he heard that a secret envoy from Sunomata had arrived, Osawa wondered wiat it could be about. The fierce Tiger of Unuma had begun to look despondent and unhappy. Feigning illness, he avoided everyone. Recently he had received a summons to go to Inabayama, and his family and retainers were apprehensive about it. Osawa himself let it be known that he was too ill to travel, and seemed in no mood to leave. The rumors had reached Unuma, too, and Osawa was aware of the danger to himself. He resented this frame-up by slandering retainers. He also lamented the disorder of the Saito clan and Tatsuoki's stupidity. But there was nothing he could do, and he could see the day when he would be forced to commit seppuku. At this point, Hikoemon visited him secretly from Sunomata. Osawa decided to act.

"I'll meet him," Osawa said.

Hideyoshi's letter was handed to him. As soon as Osawa read it, he burned it. Then he delivered his reply orally. "I'll let you know the time and place in a few days. I hope Lord Hideyoshi will be there."

After that, about two weeks passed. A message from Unuma arrived at Sunomata, and Hideyoshi, accompanied by only ten men, including Hikoemon, proceeded to the meeting place, a simple private house exactly midway between Unuma and Sunomata. While the retainers from both sides remained on the banks to stand watch over the area, Hideyoshi and Osawa took a small boat onto the Kiso River by themselves. As they sat knee to knee, the others wondered what secret conversation they might be having. The little boat was like a leaf left to the current of the big river, and for quite some time it was kept far away from the eyes and ears of the world, floating in a lovely scene of wind and light. The talk ended without incident.

After they returned to Sunomata, Hideyoshi told Hikoemon that Osawa would prob­ably come within a week. And so, within a few days and in extreme secrecy, Osawa went to Sunomata. Hideyoshi received him with much courtesy, and before anybody in the castle was aware of his presence, he took him on the very same day to Mount Komaki where Hideyoshi had a preliminary audience alone with Nobunaga.

"I've come here with Osawa Jirozaemon, the Tiger of Unuma," Hideyoshi told Nobunaga. "After listening to my arguments, he's had a change of heart and is determined to abandon the Saito and join forces with the Oda. So if you would kindly speak with hin directly, you will have added an outstandingly brave general and Unuma Castle to the Oda forces without having lifted a finger."

Nobunaga, with a surprised look on his face, seemed to be considering the details of what Hideyoshi had said. Hideyoshi was mildly discontented, wondering why his lord did not seem pleased. It was not a matter of being praised for his own efforts, but to have pulled the fierce Tiger of Unuma, like a tooth right from the enemy's mouth, and to have brought him to meet Nobunaga, should have been a great present.

He had assumed that Nobunaga would be happy. But when he thought about it later this was not a scheme he had devised with Nobunaga's consent. Maybe that was the reason. Nobunaga's expression seemed to indicate that it was. As the old saying goes, the nail that sticks out too far will be hammered down. Hideyoshi understood this well, and constantly admonished himself that his own head was sticking out as much as the head of a nail. Yet he was unable to sit on his hands and not act on what he knew would be good for his own side.

Finally, Nobunaga gave what seemed to be reluctant permission. Hideyoshi brought in Osawa.

"You've grown up, my lord," Osawa said in a friendly manner. "You may think this is the first time we have met, but today is actually the second time I've had the pleasure of meeting you. The first time was fifteen years ago, at the Shotoku Temple in Tonda, when you met my former master, Lord Saito Dosan."

Nobunaga responded simply, "Is that so?" He seemed to be evaluating his guest's character.

Osawa did not presume to flatter him. Neither did he humbly humor the man. "Even though you are my enemy, I've been impressed with what you've done in recent years. When I first saw you at the Shotoku Temple, you seemed to be a mischievous young man. But from what I have seen today, I realize that the administration of your domain belies popular opinion."

Osawa was speaking as an equal, frankly and candidly, he was not simply a brave man, but he was rather good-natured, Hideyoshi thought.

"Let's meet again on another day and talk at our leisure. I have a number of things to do today," Nobunaga said, standing up and summarily terminating the interview.

Later he summoned Hideyoshi for a private audience. Whatever was said at their meeting, Hideyoshi looked terribly perplexed afterward. But, without informing Osawa of anything, he played the part of the cordial host and entertained the general at Mount Komaki Castle.

"I'll let you know in detail what His Lordship said, after we return to Sunomata."

Once they were back at Hideyoshi's castle and the two of them were alone, Hideyoshi said, "General Osawa, I have put you in an impossible position, and I think I can only atone for this with my death. Without consulting Lord Nobunaga, I believed that His Lordship would feel exactly as I do, and happily welcome you as an ally. But his opinion of you was completely different from my own," Hideyoshi let out a sigh. Then, pausing, he looked down sadly.

Osawa had realized on his own that Nobunaga's feelings were not very favorable. "You seem terribly upset, but there's really no reason why you should be. It's not as though I can't live without a stipend from Lord Nobunaga."

"The fact is I'd be happy if that were all." Hideyoshi could hardly speak, but he sat a little straighter, as though he had suddenly found his resolve. "I'd better tell you every­thing. General Osawa, when I was about to leave, Lord Nobunaga summoned me in se­cret and scolded me for not understanding the military art of the double-cross. Why, he asked, would Osawa Jirozaemon, a man of character with such a high reputation in Mino, be taken in by my glib tongue and become his ally? I didn't foresee this at all."

"Yes, I can imagine."

"He also told me that it was this very Osawa of Unuma Castle who, as a general on the provincial border, had been the tiger protecting Mino and causing so much trouble in Owari for many years. He suggested that perhaps it was I who was being deceived by your clever words and manipulated by your daring. You can see he's full of doubts."

"Indeed."

"He also felt that if you stayed any longer at Mount Komaki, we would be letting you see the defenses of the province, so I was ordered to take you back to Sunomata immediately. Take you back and…" Hideyoshi cut his words off short as though they stuck in his throat. Even Osawa was upset, but he looked Hideyoshi straight in the eye, encouraging him to say the rest of the sentence.

"This is difficult to say, but it was His Lorship's order, so I'd like you to hear it. I was ordered by him to take you back to Sunomata, lock you up in the castle, and kill you. He thought this was a grand opportunity—one not to be missed."

When Osawa looked around, he realized that he was accompanied by not one single soldier and was inside the enemy's castle. And fearless as he was, his hair stood up on the back of his neck.

Hideyoshi continued, "But as for myself, if I obey His Lordship's order, I will have broken the pledge I already made to you, and this would be trampling the honor of a samurai. I cannot do that. At the same time, however, if I presume myself not to be lacking in the loyalty of a retainer, I'll be turning my back on my lord's orders. I've reached the point where I can neither advance nor retreat. So, on the way back from Mount Komaki, I was despondent and unhappy, which, I suppose, probably made you somewhat suspicious. But please, put away your doubts. I now have the solution very clearly in mind."

"What do mean? What are you going to do?"

"By disembowelling myself, I think I can apologize to both you and Lord Nobunaga There's no other way. General Osawa, let's drink a farewell cup. After that, I'm resigned.  I guarantee that no one is going to lay a hand on you. You can get away from here under the cover of night. Don't worry about me, just put your heart at ease!"

Osawa listened silently to everything Hideyoshi said, but his eyes were filled with tears. In contrast to the ferocity that had earned him his nickname, these were tears beyond an ordinary man's; it was clear that he had a character with a strong sense of righteousness. "I'm indebted to you," he sniffed, and wiped his eyes. Could this be the general who had fought in countless battles? "But listen, Lord Hideyoshi. It would be unpardonable for you to commit seppuku!'

"But if I don't, there are no words for an apology, either to you or His Lordship."

"No, no matter what you say, there's no righteousness in cutting open your stomach and helping me. My honor as a samurai will not allow it."

"I was the one who explained things to you and invited you here. I'm also the one who was mistaken about the way His Lordship thinks. So to apologize to both you and His Lordship, it's only proper that I'm the one who should atone for the crime by taking my own life. Please don't try to stop me."

"No matter what kind of mistake you claim to have made, I was also to blame. This is not worthy of your suicide. Instead, let me offer my head to you in appreciation of your good faith. Take my head back to Mount Komaki." Osawa began to draw his short sword

Shaken, Hideyoshi grabbed Osawa's hand. "What are you doing?"

"Let go of my hand."

“I will not. Nothing could be more painful than to let you commit seppuku!”

'I understand. That's why I'm offering you my head. If you had planned some cowardly  trick I could have shown you a real escape, even if I would have had to build a mountain of corpses to do it. But I've been touched by your samurai spirit."

“But wait. Think for just a moment. It seems very strange that we're both fighting to die. General Osawa, if you trust me to that extent, I have a plan that will allow us both to live and maintain our honor as warriors. But do you still have the heart to assist the Oda clan one more step?"

"One more step?"

"In the end, Nobunaga's doubts are based on his high regard for you. So at this point, if you did something that would truly manifest your support of the Oda clan, his doubts would melt."

That night, Osawa left Sunomata Castle and went off to an unknown destination. What was the plan revealed to him by Hideyoshi? There was no reason for anyone to know, but later its nature was plain to see. Someone now spoke to Iyo, Ando, and Ujiie—the Three Men of Mino, the very foundation of Saito power—proposing that they all three pledge allegiance to the Oda clan. The man who spoke to them so eloquently, and through whose good offices they were introduced, was none other than Osawa Jirozaemon.

Of course, Hideyoshi did not commit seppuku. Osawa fared well, and Nobunaga added four famous generals of Mino to his allies without ever leaving his castle. Was this Nobunaga's wisdom or Hideyoshi's genius? A subtle interplay of minds seemed to have taken place between lord and retainer, and no one could have said for certain which mind was actually in command.

*  *  *

Nobunaga was impatient. He had made a large sacrifice to build the castle at Sunomata, and it had taken a good deal of time, so he naturally felt frustrated.

"To avenge the name of my late father-in-law, I will strike down this immoral clan, and release the people who gasp under its evil administration." This had been the declaration of Nobunaga's motive, so that the battle might be one the world would accept, but as time passed, these words naturally started to lose their power. There was also the pos­sibility that his ability was being questioned by the Tokugawa of Mikawa, whom he could feel watching him from the rear.

The actual strength of the Oda was under question, and there was a real danger to the Oda-Tokugawa alliance. Nevertheless, Nobunaga felt impatient. Certainly he had brought Osawa and the Three Men of Mino over to his camp, but this alone had not won him any victories.

To conquer Mino with a single blow was what he asked for. It seemed that, ever since Okehazama, Nobunaga's faith in the concept of "the single blow" had become much stronger than before. Therefore, on a number of occasions, men like Hideyoshi had expressed some opposition.

At the conference to discuss the conquest of Mino that summer, Hideyoshi sat silently in the lowest seat throughout the proceedings. When asked for his views he responded, "I think, perhaps, the time is still not ripe."

This answer was extremely uncongenial to Nobunaga, who asked, almost as a rebuke, "Was it not you who said that if the Tiger of Unuma were to bring the Three Men over to our side, Mino would crumble on its own without our having to leave the castle?"

"Begging your pardon, my lord, but Mino has more than ten times the strength and wealth of Owari."

"First you said it was an excess of men of talent, and now you fear their wealth and strength. If that's the case, just when are we going to attack them?" Nobunaga no longer asked for Hideyoshi's opinion about anything. The council moved on. It was decided that, in the summer, a large army would start out from Mount Komaki for Mino, using Sunomata as its base camp.

The battle to cross the river into enemy territory lasted over a month. Throughot that time, a great number of wounded were sent back. There were never any reports of victory. The battle-weary army simply retreated in complete silence, soldiers and general alike tight-lipped and morose.

When asked by the men who had remained at the castle how the battle had gone, they all looked down and silently shook their heads. Nobunaga was silent from then on, too. It was clear he had learned that not every battle is fought like Okehazama. The castle at Sunomata was quiet now, visited only by the desolate autumn winds from the river.

A call came suddenly to Hikoemon from his master. "Among your former ronin, I imagine there must be a number who were born in other provinces, and quite a few from Mino," Hideyoshi began.

"Yes, there are."

"Do you suppose any of them were born in Fuwa?"

"I'll find out."

"Good. If you can find one, would you call him here?" In a while, Hachisuka Hikoemon brought one of his former ronin, a man named Saya Kuwaju, out to the garden where Hideyoshi waited. He appeared to be a strong man of about thirty.

"You're Saya?" Hideyoshi asked.

"Yes, my lord."

"And you're from Fuwa in Mino?"

"A village called Tarui."

"Well, I imagine you're pretty familiar with the area."

"I lived there until I was twenty years old, so I know it a little."

"Do you have any relatives there?"

"My younger sister."

"What is she doing?"

"She married into a local farming family, and I imagine she has children by now."

"Wouldn't you like to go back there? Just once?"

"I've never thought about it. It's likely that if my sister heard that her brother, the ronin, was coming home, she'd feel very uncomfortable around her husband's relatives and the rest of the village."

“But that was before. Now you're a retainer of Sunomata Castle and a respectable samurai. There's nothing wrong with that, is there?"

“But Fuwa is a strategic district in western Mino. What would I be doing in enemy territory?"

Hideyoshi nodded repeatedly at this obvious point, and seemed to be making up his mind about something. "I'd like you to come with me. We'll disguise ourselves so that we don't attract attention. Be at the garden gate by nightfall."

Hikoemon inquired dubiously, "Where are you thinking of going so suddenly?"

Hideyoshi lowered his voice and whispered into Hikoemon's ear, "To Mount Kurihara."

Hikoemon looked at him as though he doubted his sanity. He had suspected for a while that Hideyoshi had something in mind, but Mount Kurihara! Hearing his master, he could hardly hold back his surprise. A former retainer of the Saito clan, a man who was regarded as a great strategist, was living a secluded life on the mountain. This man as Takenaka Hanbei. Some time before, Hideyoshi had made a thorough inquiry into the character of this man and his relationship with the Saito clan.

Now, if we can lead this horse through the camp gate in the same way we pulled the Tiger of Unuma and the Three Men…This was Hideyoshi's general plan, but for him to consider penetrating enemy territory and going to Mount Kurihara itself was unthinkable.

"Do you really mean to go there?" Hikoemon asked incredulously.

"Of course."

"Really?" Hikoemon pressed.

"Why are you making such a point of this?" Hideyoshi appeared to think that it was no cause for danger or concern. "In the first place, you're the only one who knows my intentions, and we're going in secret. I'm going to ask you to take care of things while I'm gone for a few days."

"You're going alone?"

"No, I'll take Saya with me."

"Going with him will be the same as going unarmed. Do you really think you're going to be able to cajole Hanbei into being our ally by going alone into enemy territory?"

"That will be difficult," Hideyoshi muttered almost to himself. "But I plan to try. If I go with an open heart, it won't make any difference how firm the ties are that bind him the Saito clan."

Hikoemon suddenly recalled Hideyoshi's eloquence when he had argued against him at Hachisuka. Still, he wondered if Hideyoshi would really be able to bring Takenaka Hanbei down from Mount Kurihara. Even with his eloquence. No, even if things went poorly, and Hanbei decided to leave his mountain retreat, it was possible that he might choose the Saito rather than the Oda.

It was rumored at the time that Hanbei, having retired to Mount Kurihara, was lead­sing a quiet, countrified life, perfecting himself as a hermit away from the world. But one day, if his former masters, the Saito, were in danger of ruin, he would return to lead their army. Surely it was true that when they had driven away the great Oda attack before, he had not come to be at the head of their forces, but remained viewing the war clouds over the country from Mount Kurihara, sending his meditations to the Saito one by one and teaching them secret strategies of war. There were people who spread this story around as though it were the truth. It would be difficult—Hideyoshi himself had said this. Hikoemon felt the same way but even more so, and let out something like a groan.

"That will be a difficult ambition to realize, my lord." The look on his face expressed admonishment.

"Well…" Hideyoshi's troubled expression cleared. "There's really not that much to worry about. A difficult thing can be unexpectedly easy, and what appears to be easy can in fact be extremely difficult. I think what's essential is whether or not I can make Hanbei trust in my sincerity. My opponent being who he is, I don't plan on simple stratagems or tricks."

He began preparations for his secret journey. While he thought this trip might be futile, Hikoemon was unable to stop him. Day by day his respect for Hideyoshi's resourcefulness and magnanimity increased, and he believed that the man's ability was far above his own.

Nightfall. As agreed, Saya was standing by the garden gate. Hideyoshi looked every bit as shabby as Saya.

"Well, Hikoemon, take care of everything," Hideyoshi said, and started off as though he were just going to walk around the castle grounds. It was not, in fact, very far to Mount Kurihara from Sunomata—perhaps about ten leagues. On a bright day, Mount Kurihara could be seen dimly in the distance. But that single line of mountains was Mino's fortress against the enemy. Hideyoshi took a roundabout route along the mountains and entered Fuwa.

To know the nature and special characteristics of the people who lived there, it was essential to look first at the area's natural features. The district of Fuwa was in the foothills of the mountains in the western part of Mino, and was a bottleneck in the road to the capital.

The autumn colors at Sekigahara were beautiful. Innumerable rivers crisscrossed the land like veins. Ancient history and countless legends remained at the roots of the autumn vegetation as the grave markers of a bloody past. The Yoro Mountains formed the boundary with Kai, and clouds came and went constantly around Mount Ibuki.

Takenaka Hanbei was a native of the area. It was said that he was actually born at Inabayama, but he had spent most of his childhood at the foot of Mount Ibuki. Born in the fourth year of Temmon, Hanbei would now still be only twenty-eight years old, nothing more than a young student of military affairs. One year younger than Nobunaga, one year older than Hideyoshi. Nevertheless, he had already abandoned the quest for great achievement in the chaotic world, and had built himself a hermitage on Mount Kurihara. He took pleasure in nature, made friends with the books of the ancients, and wrote po­etry, never meeting with the visitors who often came to his door. Was he a fake? This was also said of him, but Hanbei's name was respected in Mino, and his reputation had trav­eled as far as Owari.

I'd like to meet him and judge his character for myself, was the first thought in Hideyoshi's mind. It would be regrettable for him just to pass by and not meet such a rare and extraordinary man, when they had both been born into the same world. Even more, if Hanbei was driven into the enemy camp, Hideyoshi would have to kill him. He sincerely hoped this would not happen, because it would be the most regrettable event of his entire life. I'm going to meet him, whether he'll see people or not.

The Master of Mount Kurihara

Mount Kurihara, situated next to Mount Nangu, was not very high, and looked almost like a child snuggling against its parent.

Ah, it's beautiful! When they approached the peak, even Hideyoshi, who was no poet, was in ecstasy, struck by the sublime beauty of the autumn sun sinking below the horizon. But now his mind turned to a single thought: How can I get Hanbei to become my ally? And this was quickly followed by another: No, to confront a master strategist by means of strategy would be the worst strategy of all. I can only meet him as a blank sheet of paper. I'll just talk to him candidly, and speak with all my power. Thus he rallied his spirits. Nevertheless, he still did not even know where Hanbei lived, and they had been unable to find his isolated residence by the time the sun went down. Hideyoshi, however, was not in a hurry. When it got dark, a lamp would naturally be lit somewhere. Rather than walking around uselessly, taking all the wrong turns, it would be more pleasant and quicker to stay where they were. At least he seemed to be thinking this way, because he sat resting until the sun had set. Finally they spotted the tiny dot of a lamp off in the dis­tance, beyond a swampy hollow. Following a narrow, meandering path that wound its way up and down, they at last reached the place.

It was a level plot of land surrounded by red pines, halfway up the mountain. They had expected to encounter a small thatched cottage surrounded by a broken-down fence, but they now found themselves approaching a crude mud wall encircling a large com­pound. As they came closer, they could see three or four lanterns burning farther within, instead of a formal gate, only a bamboo shutter flapped loosely in the wind.

This is so big, Hideyoshi thought as he entered silently. Inside was a pine wood. A narrow path led from the entrance into the pines, and except for the pine needles covering the ground, one was not aware of a single speck of dirt. Walking on, for about fifty yards, they came to the house. A cow was lowing in its stall in a nearby shed. They could hear a fire crackling in the wind, and its smoke filled the air. Hideyoshi stood still. He rubbed his sharp eyes. With a gust of wind from the mountain, however, the place was suddenly swept clear of smoke; and when he looked, he saw a child putting twigs under the stove in a cooking hut.

"Who are you?" the boy asked suspiciously.

"Are you a servant?" Hideyoshi asked.

"Me? Yes," the boy replied.

"I am a retainer of the Oda clan. My name is Kinoshita Hideyoshi. Could you pass on a message?"

"To whom?"

"To your master."

"He's not here."

"He's out?"

"I'm telling you, he's really out. Go away." Turning his back on the visitor, the child sat in front of the stove, and once again began stoking the fire. The night mist on the mountain was chill, and Hideyoshi squatted in front of the stove, next to the child.

"Let me warm myself up a bit."

The child said nothing, but gave him a quick glance out of the corner of his eye.

"It's cold at night, isn't it?"

"This is a mountain. Of course it's cold," the boy said.

"Little monk, this—"

"This is not a temple! I'm Master Hanbei's disciple, not a monk!"

"Ha, ha, ha, ha!"

"Why are you laughing?"

"I'm sorry."

"Go away! If my master finds out some stranger has crept into the cooking hut, I get scolded for it later."

"No. It'll be all right. I'll apologize to your master later."

"You really want to meet him?"

"That's right. Do you think I'm going to go back down the mountain without meeting him, after coming all this way?"

"People from Owari are rude, aren't they? You're from Owari, right?"

"What's wrong with that?"

"My master hates people from Owari. I hate them too. Owari's an enemy province isn't it?"

"That's right, I guess."

“You've come looking for something in Mino, haven't you? If you're just on a journey you'd better go right on by. Or you'll lose your head."

“I don't intend to go any farther than this. My only plan was to come to this house.”

"What did you come here for?"

“I came to seek admission."

“Seek admission? You want to become a disciple of my teacher, like me?"

Uh-huh. I guess I want to become a brother disciple with you. At any rate, we should get along well. Now go talk to the master. I'll look after stoking the oven. Don't worry, the rice won't burn."

"That's all right. I don't want to."

"Don't be bad-tempered. There, isn't that your master coughing inside?"

"My master coughs a lot at night. He's not strong."

"So you lied to me when you said he was out."

"It's all the same whether he's here or not. He won't meet with anyone who calls, no after who they are or what province they come from."

"Well, I'll wait for the right time."

"Yeah, come again."

"No. This hut is nice and warm. Just let me stay here for a while."

"You're joking! Go away!" The boy jumped up as if to attack the intruder, but when glared at Hideyoshi's smiling face in the flickering red light of the oven, he was unable stay angry no matter how hard he tried. As the child stared hard at this man's face, his initial feelings of hostility gradually lessened.

"Kokuma! Kokuma!" called a voice from the house. The boy reacted instantly. Leaving Hideyoshi where he was, he dashed from the hut into the house, and he didn't come back for quite some time. In the meantime, the smell of scorched food drifted out of the large cauldron that sat on top of the stove. Unable to think of it as just someone else's meal, Hideyoshi quickly picked up the ladle on top of the lid and stirred the contents of th cauldron—brown rice gruel mixed with dried chestnuts and dried vegetables. Others might have laughed at this pauper's food, but Hideyoshi had been born on a poor farm, and when he looked at a single grain of rice, he saw his mother's tears. To him, this was no trifling matter.

"That boy! This is going to burn. What a waster."

Taking a cloth, he grabbed the handles of the pot and lifted it up.

"Oh, thank you, mister."

"Ah, Kokuma? It was just beginning to burn, so I took the cauldron off. It seems to have boiled just enough."

"You already know my name, huh?"

"That's what Master Hanbei called from inside just now. Did you talk to the master for me while you were there?"

"He called me for something else. As for interceding for you, if I talked to my teacher about some useless thing, he'd only get mad. So I didn't say anything."

"Well, well. You're strict about following your teacher's orders, aren't you? I'm really impressed."

"Huh! You're just talking for the sake of your own pride now."

"No, it's true. I'm impatient, but if I were your teacher, I'd praise you like this. That's no lie."

Just then, someone came out of the nearby kitchen, holding a paper lantern. A female voice called repeatedly for Kokuma, and as Hideyoshi turned and looked, he could dimly see  a sixteen- or seventeen-year-old girl wearing a kimono with a pattern of mountain cherry blossoms and mist, tied with a plum-colored sash. Her figure was illuminated in the sooty darkness by the light of the paper lantern she held in her hand.

"What is it, Oyu?" Kokuma stepped toward her and listened to what she said. When she finished speaking with him, the cherry-blossomed sleeve glided down the dark entrance hall together with the lamp and disappeared behind the wall.

"Who was that?" Hideyoshi asked.

"My teacher's sister," Kokuma said simply and in a gentle voice, as though he were speaking of the beauty of the flowers in his master's garden.

"Listen, I'm asking you. Just to make sure, won't you please go inside just once and ask him to see me? If he says no, I'll leave."

"You'll really leave?"

"I will."

"For sure, now." Kokuma spoke emphatically, but finally he went inside. He returned right away and said abruptly, "He says no, and that he detests receiving guests… and I got scolded, sure enough. So please go away, mister. I'm going to serve my teacher his meal now."

"Well, I'll leave tonight. Then I'll call again sometime." Submitting meekly, Hideyoshi stood up and started to go.

Kokuma said, "It won't do any good to come back!"

Hideyoshi retraced his steps in silence. Unmindful of the darkness, he descended to the foot of the mountain and slept.

When he got up the following day, he made some preparations and once again climbed the mountain. Then, just as he had done the day before, he visited the mountain residence of Hanbei at sundown. The day before, he had spent too much time with the boy, so today he tried going up to the door that appeared to be the main entrance. The person who responded and came out to his call was the same Kokuma of the day before.

"What! Mister, you've come again?"

"I wondered if I could ask to meet him today. Do me the favor of asking your teacher again." Kokuma went inside, and whether he really talked to Hanbei or not, he quickly returned and gave him the same blank refusal.

"If that's the case, I'll inquire again when he's in a better mood," Hideyoshi said politely and left. Two days later he climbed the mountain again.

"Will he meet me today?" Kokuma made a round trip inside the house in his usual fashion, and once again refused him plainly. "He says it's annoying that you come so often."

That day Hideyoshi returned in silence again. He visited the house this way any number of times. In the end, whenever Kokuma saw his face, he did nothing but laugh.

“You've got a lot of patience, haven't you, mister? But coming here is useless, no matter how patient you are. These days, when I go in to tell my teacher you're here, he just laughs instead of getting mad."

Young boys will easily become friendly with people, and a familiarity had already started to develop between Kokuma and Hideyoshi.

Hideyoshi climbed the mountain again on the following day. Waiting at the foot of the mountain, Saya had no idea of his master's frame of mind, and finally starting to get angry, he said, "Who does Takenaka Hanbei think he is? This time I'm going to go up there and call his rudeness into account."

The day of Hideyoshi's tenth visit was a day of violent wind and rain, and both Saya and the people who owned the farmhouse where they stayed did their best to stop Hideyoshi from going, but he stubbornly put on a straw raincoat and hat, and made the asscent. Arriving at dusk, he stood at the entrance and called in as usual.

"Yes. Who is it, please?" That night, for the first time, the young woman, Oyu, who Kokuma had said was Hanbei's sister stepped out.

"I know I'm bothering Master Hanbei by calling, and I regret that I'm doing so against his wishes, but I've come as my own master's envoy, and it will be difficult for me to return home until I have met him. It is part of a samurai's service to deliver his master's messages, so I'm resolved to call here until Master Hanbei agrees to see me, even if it takes two or three years. And if Master Hanbei refuses to meet me, I have decided to disembowel myself. Alas, I'm sure that Master Hanbei knows the hardships of the warrior class better than any man. Please… if you could put in a good word for me."

Beneath the spray of the rain gushing violently from the leaking roof, Hideyoshi kneeled and made his petition. It seemed that the impressionable young lady was moved by that alone.

"Please wait for a moment," she said gently, and disappeared into the house. When she appeared again, however, she told him, evidently with some pity, that Hanbei's answer had not changed. "I'm sorry that my elder brother is so stubborn, but would you kindly withdraw? He says that no matter how often you come here, he won't see you. He dislikes speaking with people and refuses to do so now."

"Is that so?" Hideyoshi looked down in apparent disappointment but did not persist. The rain from the eaves battered against his shoulders. "There's nothing else to be done. Well, I'll wait until he's in a good mood." Putting on his hat, he walked out, dejected, into the rain. Following the path through the pine forest as he always did, he had just come out on the other side of the mud wall when he heard Kokuma chasing him from behind.

"Mister! He'll meet you! He said he'll meet you! He said to come back!"

"Huh? Master Hanbei said he would meet me?" Hideyoshi hastily returned with okuma. But only Oyu, Hanbei's sister, was waiting for them.

"My brother was so impressed with your sincerity that he said he would be at fault if he didn't meet you. But not tonight. He's in bed today because of the rain, but he asked you to come on another day, when he sends a message to you." It suddenly occurred to Hideyoshi that perhaps this woman had felt sorry for him and that, after he had left, she had appealed to her elder brother, Hanbei, on his behalf.

"Whenever you send word, I'll be ready."

"Where are you staying?"

"I'm staying at the foot of the mountain, at Moemon's house, a farmhouse near a large zelkova tree in the village of Nangu."

"Well, when the weather clears."

"I'll be waiting."

"It must be cold, and you're getting wet in the rain. At least dry your clothes by the fire in the cooking hut and have something to eat before you go."

"No, I'll save it for another day. I'll take my leave now." Striding through the rain, Hideyoshi went down the mountain.

The rain continued to fall the next day. The day after that, Mount Kurihara remained wrapped in white clouds, and no tidings came from a messenger. Finally the weather cleared, and the colors of the mountain were entirely renewed. The early autumn leaves of the sumac and lacquer trees had turned bright red.

That morning Kokuma arrived at Moemon's gate leading a cow. "Hey, mister!" he said. "I've come to invite you up! My teacher told me to guide you to the house. And since you're a guest today, I've brought a mount for you." With that, he handed him an invitation from Hanbei. Hideyoshi opened it and read:

Curiously, you have often come to visit this weakened man who has retired to the country. Although it is difficult for me to grant your request, please come for a bowl of plain tea.

The words seemed a bit haughty. Hideyoshi could see that Hanbei was a rather unsociable man, even before he met him face to face. Hideyoshi sat astride the cow's back, say­ing to Kokuma, "Well, since you brought me a ride, shall we go?" Kokuma turned toward the mountain and began walking. The autumn sky around Mount Kurihara and Mount Nangu was clear. It was the first time since he had come to the foothills that Hideyoshi was able to look up and see the mountains so clearly.

When they finally approached the entrance to the mud wall, they could see a beauti­ful woman standing there with an expectant expression. It was Oyu, who had dressed and made herself up more carefully than usual.

"Ah, you shouldn't have taken the trouble," Hideyoshi said, hastily jumping down from the cow's back.

Having passed inside, he was left alone in a room. The babbling of water cleansed his ears. The bamboo in the wind brushed against the window. This truly seemed to be a quiet retreat in the mountains. In an alcove with rough clay walls and pine pillars was hung a scroll on which a Zen priest had written the Chinese character for the word "dream."

How can he be here without being completely bored? Hideyoshi wondered, mar­veling at the thoughts of the man who lived in such a place. And he thought that he him­self would be unable to stay for more than three days. He didn't know what to do with himself, even for the time he was there. Even though he was being soothed by the songs of the birds and the soughing of the pines, his mind had dashed off to Sunomata and then gone on to Mount Komaki, while his blood seethed in the winds and clouds of the times. Hideyoshi was definitely a stranger to this sort of peace.

“Well, I've made you wait." The voice of a young man came from behind him. It was Hanbei. Hideyoshi had known he was young, but hearing the man's voice, he was im­pressed with this fact all the more. His host sat down, leaving him the seat of honor.

Hideyoshi spoke hastily, beginning with a formal greeting. "I am a retainer of the Oda clan. My name is Kinoshita Hideyoshi."

Hanbei gently stopped him. "Don't you think we can omit stiff formalities? That certainly wasn't my intention in inviting you here today."

Hideyoshi felt that he had already been put at a disadvantage by this reply. The opening gambit that he had always taken with others had already been taken by his host with him.

"I am Takenaka Hanbei, the master of this mountain cottage. I'm honored by your coming here today."

"No, I'm afraid I've rather obstinately presented myself at your gate and been quite troublesome."

Hanbei laughed. "To be honest, you've been a real annoyance. But now that I meet you, I must say it's quite a relief to have a guest from time to time. Please make yourself at home. By the way, my honored guest, what is it that you're looking for by climbing up to my mountain cottage? People say there's nothing in the mountains but the sounds of birds."

He had taken a seat lower than his guest's, but his eyes seemed to wear a smile, and seemed amused by this man who had shown up from nowhere. At this point, Hideyohi studied him frankly. Hanbei's frame truly did not seem very robust. His skin was :cid, his face pale. But he was a handsome man, and the red of his mouth was especially striking.

All in all, his demeanor must have been the result of good upbringing. He was serene and spoke quietly, and with a smile. But there was some doubt as to whether the surface of this human being really manifested the underlying truth, just as, for example, the mountain today seemed peaceful enough for happy wandering, but the other day a storm had d roared out of the valley, blowing enough to make the trees howl.

"Well, in fact…" For an instant Hideyoshi smiled, and he straightened his shoulders a little. "I have come to meet you at Lord Nobunaga's order. Won't you come down from this mountain? The world is not going to allow a man of your ability to live a leisurely life in the mountains from such an early age. Sooner or later you're bound to serve as a samurai. And if that's so, who are you going to serve, if not Lord Oda Nobunaga? So I've come to encourage you to serve the Oda clan. Don't you feel like standing among the clouds of war one more time?"

Hanbei only listened and grinned mysteriously. Even with his quick tongue, Hideyoshi found his zeal considerably diminished by this kind of opponent. The man was like a willow in the wind. You couldn't tell whether he was listening or not. Holding his tongue for a while, he waited meekly for Hanbei to respond, and to the very end he carried himself like a blank sheet of paper, facing this man without stratagem or affectation.

During this time, a light breeze was fluttering from a fan in Hanbei's hand. He had previously placed three chunks of charcoal into a small brazier, and putting down the tongs, he fanned the brazier just enough to ignite the fire without raising the ashes. The water in the kettle started to boil. In the meantime, he took up the napkin used for the ceremony and wiped the small tea bowls for both host and guest. It seemed as though he might be judging the temperature of the water by the sound of its boiling. The man was graceful and seemingly without a fault, but very deliberate.

Hideyoshi could feel his feet beginning to fall asleep, but he was unable to find an opening for his next words. And before he noticed it, the things he had talked about in such detail had flown off in the direction of the wind in the pines. It seemed that nothing remained in Hanbei's ears.

"Well now, I wonder if you have anything to say concerning the things I spoke about just now. I'm sure that making some statement about how you will be repaid in terms of stipend and rank, and trying to entice you with money, is not the way to quicken your re­turn from retirement, so I'm not going to mention such things at all. Now, it's true that Owari is a small province, but it's going to control the nation in the future because no one other than my lord has the capacity. So it's wasteful for you to live in seclusion in the mountains in the midst of this chaotic world. You should come down for the sake of the nation." His host suddenly turned to him as he spoke, and Hideyoshi unconsciously held his breath. But Hanbei quietly offered him a tea bowl.

"Have some tea," he said. Then, taking a small tea bowl for himself, Hanbei sipped the tea almost as though he were licking the bowl. He tasted the tea a number of times, as though there were absolutely nothing else in his heart.

"Honored guest…"

"Yes?"

"Do you like orchids? In the spring they are beautiful, but they're quite nice in the fall, too."

"Orchids! What do you mean, orchids?"

"The flowers. When you go about three or four leagues deeper into the mountain, on the precipices and cliffs there are orchids that hold the dew of ancient times. I had my servant, Kokuma, pick one and then put it into a pot. Would you like to see it?"

"N-no." Hideyoshi stopped hesitantly. "I have no use for looking at orchids."

"Is that so?"

"I hope to one day, but the fact that my dreams run off to the battleground even when I'm at home shows that I'm still a hot-blooded youth. I'm nothing more than a humble servant of the Oda clan. I don't understand the feelings of such men of leisure."

"Well, that's not unreasonable. But don't you think it's a personal waste for a man like you to be so busily worn out by the search for fame and profit? There's a rather profound significance to a life lived in the mountains. Why don't you leave Sunomata and come build a hut on this mountain?"

Isn't honesty the same as foolishness? And in the end doesn't being without strategy mean being without wisdom? Perhaps sincerity alone is not sufficient to knock at the human heart. I don't understand, Hideyoshi thought as he silently went down the moun­tain. It had been in vain. His visit to Hanbei's house had been for nothing. Burning with indignation, he turned around and looked back. Now nothing remained but resentment. No regrets. He had been politely sent away after today's first encounter. Perhaps I'll never meet him again, Hideyoshi thought. No. The next time I'll examine his head after they place it in front of my camp stool on the battlefield. He promised this to himself as he chewed his lip. How many times had he walked this road and lowered his head, being perfectly courteous and hiding his shame? This road was now an irritation. He turned around once again.

“You worm!" he shouted impotently. Perhaps he was recalling Hanbei's pale face and worn body. In his anger, he quickened his pace. Then, taking a turn in the road that looked out over a cliff on one side, he suddenly seemed to remember something he had been suppressing ever since leaving Hanbei's house. Standing on the cliff, he relieved himself into the valley below. The arcing stream became a rusting mist halfway down. Hideyoshi became abstracted and took care of his business, but when he finished he exclaimed, "That's enough of grumbling!" With that, he quickened his pace even more, and dashed down to the foothills of the mountain.

When he got to Moemon's house he said, "Saya, this has unexpectedly turned out to be a long trip. Let's get up early tomorrow and go home." With his master wearing such an energetic look, Saya thought that the meeting with Takenaka Hanbei must have gone well, and he felt happy for his master. Hideyoshi and Saya passed the evening with Moemon and his family, and then dropped off to sleep. Hideyoshi slept with an empty mind, Saya was so surprised at his master's snoring that he opened his eyes from time to time. But when he thought about it, he realized that the worry and physical fatigue of going up Mount Kurihara every day must have been considerable. With this knowledge, even Saya became teary-eyed.

Trying to triumph, even just a little, must be something, he told himself, but he had no idea that his master's efforts had ended in failure. Hideyoshi was already finishing his travel preparations before dawn. Stepping out into the dew, they left the village. No doubt many of the families there were still sound asleep.

"Wait, Saya."

Hideyoshi suddenly stopped and stood up straight, facing the rising sun. Mount Kurihara was still black above the sea of morning mist. Behind the mountain, the glowing clouds were moving with the colors of the brilliantly ascending sun.

"No, I was wrong," Hideyoshi muttered. "I came to get a person who is hard to get. So that he is hard to get is natural. Maybe my own sincerity is still insufficient. How can I accomplish great things with such smallness of mind?"

He turned completely around. "Saya, I'm going up Mount Kurihara one more time. You go back before me." With that, he abruptiy turned and went back up the road, pierc­ing the morning mist on the slopes of the mountain, going steadily on. So today, again, he climbed the mountain, and before long he was already halfway up. When he came to the edge of a broad, grassy swamp that was close to Hanbei's house, he heard a voice addressing him in the distance.

It was Oyu, and with her was Kokuma. She had an herb basket at her elbow and was riding the cow. Kokuma was holding the reins.

"Well, I'm surprised. You're amazing, aren't you, mister? Even my teacher said you'd had enough and probably wouldn't come back today."

Dismounting from the cow's back, Oyu made her salutations as always. But Kokuma beseeched him.

"Mister, please don't go on, just for today. He said he had had a fever in the night because he talked with you for a long time. Even this morning his mood was horrible, and I got scolded."

"Don't be rude," Oyu reprimanded him, and apologized to Hideyoshi, asking him in a roundabout way not to visit. "It's not that my brother became ill from talking to you, but he seems to have a bit of a cold. He's in bed today, so I'll tell him that you wanted to come. But, please, not today."

"I suppose it would be an annoyance. I'll drop the idea and go back, but…"

He took a brush and an ink case from his kimono, and wrote a poem on a piece of paper.

There is no leisure in a life of indolence.

That should be left to the birds and beasts.

There is seclusion even in a crowd,

Tranquillity in the streets of a town.

The mountain clouds are free from worldly attachments,

They come and go of themselves.

How can the place to bury one's bones

Be limited to the green mountains?

He knew very well that it was a poor poem, but it expressed what he felt. He added one more thing:

Where is the destination of the clouds that leave the peaks?

To the west? To the east?

"I'm sure he's going to laugh at me and call me impudent and shameless, but this is the last time I'll bother him. I'll wait here for an answer. And if I see that it will be im­possible to complete my lord's order, I'll commit seppuku right here by this swamp. So please go speak to him for me one more time." He was even more earnest today than he had been yesterday. And there was no falseness in his use of the word seppuku. It had slipped out almost unconsciously, from his own zeal.

Rather than despising him, Oyu felt a deep sympathy and returned to her brother's sickbed with the letter. Hanbei read the letter once and said absolutely nothing. He kept his eyes closed for almost half a day. Evening came, and the day turned into a moonlit night.

"Kokuma, fetch the cow," Hanbei said suddenly.

Since he was obviously going to go out, Oyu became alarmed and dressed her brother warmly in padded cotton clothes and a heavy kimono. Then he left, riding on the cow. With Kokuma as his guide, they went down the mountain slope toward the swamp. On a grassy knoll in the distance, he could see the figure of someone who had had nei­ther food nor drink, sitting cross-legged like a Zen priest under the moon. Had a hunter discovered him from afar, he would have thought that Hideyoshi made a perfect target. Hanbei got down from the cow and approached him directly. Then he knelt down in front of Hideyoshi and bowed.

“Master guest, I was discourteous today. I'm not sure what promise you've set your heart on, from a person who is nothing more than a worn-out man living in the mountains, but your manners were more than I deserved. It is said that a samurai will die for someone who truly knows him. I don't want you to die in vain, and I will carve this into my heart. And yet, at one time I served the Saito clan. I'm not saying that I will serve Nobunaga.1 am going to serve you, and devote this sickly body to your cause. I came here simply  to say this. Please forgive my rudeness of the last several days."

There was no fighting for a long time. Both Owari and Mino strengthened their defenses and left the winter to the snow and icy winds. With the unofficial truce, the number of travelers and the packhorse trains between the two provinces increased. The New Year passed, and finally the buds of the plum trees became tinted with color. The towns­people of Inabayama thought the world would continue untroubled for another hundred years.

The spring sun struck the white walls of Inabayama Castle and enveloped them in an air of indolence and boredom. On such days, when the townspeople looked up at the castle, they wondered why they had built a fortress on the high mountain peak. They were sensitive to the moods of the castle. When the center of their lives came under stress, they felt it right away; when it was filled with lassitude, they, too, became apathetic. No matter how many official notices were posted morning and night, no one ever took hem seriously.

It was midday. White cranes and water birds chattered on the pond. The peach blossoms fell thick and fast. Even though the orchard was enclosed within the castle walls, there were few windless days on the top of lofty Mount Inabayama. Tatsuoki lay in a drunken stupor in a teahouse in the peach orchard.

Saito Kuroemon and Nagai Hayato, two of Tatsuoki's senior retainers, were looking for the lord of Inabayama. Tatsuoki's consorts may not have rivaled "the harem of three thousand beauties" of Chinese legend, but beauty was certainly not lacking here. If the ladies-in-waiting were included, they would have outnumbered the peaches in the orchard. Sitting in groups, they waited, forlorn and bored, for one idle slumberer to awaken.

"Where is His Lordship?" Kuroemon asked.

"His Lordship seems to be tired. He has fallen asleep in the teahouse," the attendant replied.

"You mean he's drunk?" Kuroemon said, and he and Hayato peeked into the tea-house. They spotted Tatsuoki in the middle of a crowd of women, lying stretched out, with a hand drum for a pillow.

"Well, let's come again later," Kuroemon said. The two started to leave.

"Who is it! I can hear men's voices!" Tatsuoki lifted his flushed face, his ears a bright red. "Is that you, Kuroemon? And Hayato? What did you come here for? We're flower-viewing. And you need sake!"

The two seemed to have come for a private conversation, but when he spoke to them in this way, they refrained from informing him about the reports from enemy province.

"Maybe tonight." But night held only another drinking party.

"Perhaps tomorrow." They waited again, but at noon there was an extravagant concert. There was not one day in seven when Tatsuoki looked over the affairs of state. He left that to his chief retainers. Fortunately, many of them were veterans who had served the Saito clan for three generations, and they maintained the power of the clan in the midst of chaos. Leaving Tatsuoki to his own pursuits, the senior retainers never allowed themselves the luxury of sleeping on a fine spring day.

According to the information gathered by Hayato's spies, the Oda clan had learned from the bitter experience of defeat the previous summer, and had realized the futility of trying again. "He's done nothing but lose troops and money in his attacks on Mino, so maybe he's given up completely," Hayato concluded. He gradually came to believe that Nobunaga had abandoned his plans of conquest because he had run out of money.

That spring, Nobunaga had invited a tea master and a poet to the castle, and was passing the days practicing the tea ceremony and holding poetry-writing parties. On the surface, at least, Nobunaga was taking advantage of this period of peace to enjoy life, as though he had no other care in the world.

Just after the midsummer Festival of the Dead, messengers carrying urgent dispatches galloped from Mount Komaki to all the districts in Owari. The castle town was stirring. The investigation of travelers crossing the border was becoming stricter. Retainers came and went, and met in frequent late-night conferences in the castle. Horses were being requisitioned. Samurai pressed the armorers for the armor and weapons they had sent for re­pair.

"What of Nobunaga?" Hayato asked his spies.

They answered, though less confidently, "Nothing has changed in the castle. The lamps shine until the early hours, and the sound of flutes and drums echoes over the wa­ters of the moat."

As summer turned to early fall, the news broke: "Nobunaga is heading west with an army of ten thousand men! They've established their base at Sunomata Castle. They're crossing the Kiso River even now!"

Tatsuoki, who normally looked upon the outside world with complete indifference, became hysterical when he was finally forced to take notice. His advisers, too, were dismayed because they had yet to come up with appropriate countermeasures.

"It may be a lie," Tatsuoki repeated to himself. "The Oda clan cannot muster an army of ten thousand men. They haven't been able to put together an army that large for any battle until now."

But when his spies told him that this time the Oda had indeed raised an army of ten thousand men, Tatsuoki was terrified to his very marrow. Now he consulted his chief retainers.

"Well, this attack is a reckless gamble. What are we going to do to repel them?"

At length, just as people call upon the gods in times of trouble, he sent urgent summonses to the Three Men of Mino, whom he ordinarily regarded as unpleasant old men to be kept at a respectful distance.

"We sent messengers as a matter of course, but not one of them has come yet," his retainers replied.

'Well, order them to come!" Tatsuoki screamed. He himself took up a brush and wrote letters to the Three Men. But even then, not one of them hurried to Inabayama Castle.

"What about the Tiger of Unuma?"

Him? He's been feigning illness and confining himself in his castle for some time.  We can't rely on him."

Tatsuoki suddenly recovered his spirits, as though he were laughing at his retainers' foolishness, or had suddenly hit upon some plan of genius. "Did you send a messenger to Mount Kurihara? Call Hanbei! What's the matter? Why don't you do as I command? Don't procrastinate at a time like this! Send a man out right now. Right now!"

"We sent a message a few days ago without waiting for your command, informing Lord Hanbei of the urgency of the situation and urging him to come down from the Mountain, but—"

"He won't come?" Tatsuoki was becoming impatient. "Why is that? Why do you suppose he doesn't come rushing down at the head of his army? He's supposed to be my loyal retainer."

Tatsuoki seemed to understand the words "loyal retainer" to mean someone who generally spoke in a straightforward manner, offending him with his unpleasant looks, but who, in times of emergency, would be the first one to dash forward no matter how far away he might be. "Let's send a messenger one more time," Tatsuoki insisted.

The chief retainers considered it useless, but sent a fourth messenger to Mount Kurihara. The man returned crestfallen.

"I was finally able to see him, but after he read your order he made no reply. He just shed tears and sighed, saying something about the unhappy rulers of this world," the messenger reported.

Tatsuoki received this news as though he had been made sport of. He turned red with anger and chided his retainers, "You shouldn't depend on sick men!"

The days passed busily with such comings and goings. The Oda army had already begun to cross the Kiso River and was beginning to engage the Saito clan's forces in violent fighting. Reports of their army's defeats came to Inabayama hourly.

Tatsuoki could not sleep, and his eyes were glazed. The castle was quickly filled with confusion and melancholy. Tatsuoki had the peach orchard enclosed within a curtain, and there he sat on his camp stool, surrounded by gaudy armor and retainers.

"If our forces are insufficient, keep making more demands on each of our districts.  Are there enough troops in the castle town? We won't need to borrow troops from the Asai clan, will we? What do you think?" His voice was shrill and filled with fear, quavering th his own terror and failing spirits. The retainers had to take care that Tatsuoki's state of mind did not influence his own warriors.

By nightfall, fires could be seen from the castle. The advance of the Oda troops continued day and night, from Atsumi and the Kano Plain in the south and extending up the tributaries of the Nagara River toward Goto and Kagamijima in the west. As the Oda advanced, the fires they set became a tide of flame that scorched the sky. By the seventh day of the month, the Oda closed in on Inabayama, the enemy's main castle.

It was the first time Nobunaga had been in charge of such a large army. His determination to succeed could be understood from that fact alone. For Owari, this meant the mbilization of the entire province. If they were defeated, both Owari and the Oda would cease to exist.

Once the army had reached Inabayama, its advance halted, and for several days both sides engaged in bitter fighting. The natural stronghold and the Saito's seasoned veterans proved their worth. What was especially damaging to the Oda, however, was the inferiority of their weapons. The wealth of Mino had enabled the Saito clan to buy a considerable number of firearms.

The Saito had a gunners' regiment, which the Oda forces lacked, that fired on the attackers from the mountainside as they approached the castle town. Akechi Mitsuhide, the man who had created the regiment, had long since left Mino and become a ronin. Nevertheless, the young scholar had devoted himself to the study of firearms, and the founda­tions of the regiment were solid.

In any event, after several days of blistering heat and close fighting, the Oda troops finally began to tire. If the Saito clan had called on Omi or Ise for reinforcements at that moment, ten thousand men would never have seen Owari again.

Most ominous of all were the shapes of Mount Kurihara, Mount Nangu, and Mount Bodai, looming in the distance.

"You really don't have to worry about that direction," Hideyoshi reassured Nobunaga.

But Nobunaga was anxious. "A siege is not the right strategy, but getting impatient will only injure my own troops. I don't see how we can take the fortress, no matter what we do."

Camp councils were held over and over again, but no one seemed to have a good idea. Finally a plan of Hideyoshi's was approved, and one night soon after that he disap­peared from the advance guard.

Starting from the crossroads of the Unuma and Hida roads, which was four or five leagues from the end of the mountain range on which Inabayama stood, Hideyoshi set off with only nine trusted men. Drenched in sweat, the party scrambled up Mount Zuiryuji, which was far enough from Inabayama that no one would be on watch there. Among the men accompanying Hideyoshi were Hikoemon and his younger brother, Matajuro. Acting as their guide was a man who had recently become devoted to Hideyoshi and who felt a deep sense of obligation toward him, Osawa Jirozaemon, the Tiger of Unuma.

"Go from the base of that huge crag toward the valley. Cross that little stream yonder and head for the marsh."

Just when they thought they had reached the end of the valley and of the path as well, they saw wisteria vines clinging to a cliff. Rounding a peak, they found a hidden path to the valley that passed through a low growth of striped bamboo.

"It's about two leagues along this path to the rear of the castle. If you go that distance following this map of the mountain, you should run into a water sluice that leads inside the castle. Now with your permission, I'll take my leave."

Osawa left the group and turned back alone. He was a man who had a strong sense of loyalty. Although he was devoted to Hideyoshi and completely sincere, he had once sworn allegiance to the Saito clan. It must have pained him to lead these men up the se­cret path that led to the back of the castle of his former lords. Hideyoshi had guessed as much and had intentionally told him to turn back before they reached their destination.

Two leagues was no great distance, but there was virtually no path. As they climbed, Hideyoshi continually referred to the map, looking for the hidden pathway. The map and the actual terrain of the mountain did not match, however, no matter how long he com­pared the two.

He could not find the mountain stream that was supposed to be their landmark. They were lost. Meanwhile, the sun started to set, and it turned much cooler. Hideyoshi had not given much thought to the possibility of getting lost. His mind was on the troops laying siege to Inabayama Castle. If something went wrong at sunrise the following morn­ing, he would be doing his comrades a great disservice.

"Wait!" one of the men said, so suddenly that they all froze. "I can see a light."

There was no reason for a light to be in the middle of the mountains, especially near a secret path leading to Inabayama Castle. They had probably got quite close to the castle, and this was certain to be an enemy guardhouse.

The men quickly hid. Compared with the ronin, who were extremely agile whether they were scrambling up the mountains or merely walking, Hideyoshi felt at a disadvantage.

"Hold onto this," Hikoemon said, extending the shaft of his spear. Hideyoshi held on tight, and Hikoemon clambered up the precipice, pulling Hideyoshi up behind him. They came out onto a plateau. As the night grew darker, the light they had seen before flickered brightly from a cleft in the mountain to the west of them.

Assuming that the light was from a guardhouse, the path certainly would only go in one direction.

"We have no choice," they said, determined to break through.

"Wait." Hideyoshi quickly calmed them down. "There are probably only a few men in the guardhouse, not enough to worry us, but we mustn't let them signal Inabayama. If there's a fire beacon, it must be close to the hut, so let's find it and leave two men there first. Then, to stop any guard from getting away to the castle, half of you should go be­hind the house."

Nodding in assent, they crawled away like forest animals, crossing a hollow and entering the valley proper. The fragrance of the hemp in the fields was unexpected. And here were plots of millet, leeks, and yams.

Hideyoshi cocked his head to one side. The hut, surrounded as it was by fields, and of rough construction, did not appear to be a guardhouse. "Don't be hasty. I'm going to take a look."

Hideyoshi crawled through the hemp, trying to keep it from rustling. From what he could see inside the hut, it was clearly nothing more than a peasant's house, and terribly run-down at that. He could see two people in the dim light of a lamp. One seemed to be an old woman, sleeping stretched out on a straw mat. The other one looked to be her son, and he was massaging the old woman's back.

Hideyoshi forgot where he was for a moment, and gazed fondly at the scene. The old lady's hair was already white. Her son was quite muscular, although he didn't seem to be more than sixteen or seventeen. Hideyoshi was unable to think of this mother and child as strangers. He suddenly felt as though he were seeing his own mother in Nakamura and himself as a boy.

The young man suddenly looked up and said, "Mother, wait just a moment. Something's strange."

"What is it, Mosuke?" The old lady raised herself up a little.

"The crickets have suddenly stopped chirping."

"It's probably some animal trying to get into the storehouse again."

"No." He shook his head strongly. "If it were an animal, it wouldn't come close while the light was still shining." The young man slid out toward the porch, ready to go outside, and picked up a sword. "Who's out there, sneaking around!" he called.

Hideyoshi suddenly stood up in the hemp patch.

Starded, the young man stared at Hideyoshi. At length he murmured, "What's goin on? I thought someone was out there. Are you a samurai from Kashihara?"

Hideyoshi did not answer, but turned around and signaled the men hiding behind him with a wave of his hand. "Surround the hut! If anyone runs out of it, cut them down!" The warriors jumped up from the hemp patch and surrounded the hut in an instant.

"Surrounding my house with all this show," Mosuke said, almost as a challenge to Hideyoshi, who had now walked up to the house. "My mother and I are the only two people here. There's nothing here worth surrounding with so many people. What's your business here anyway, samurai?"

His attitude, as he stood on the porch, was anything but confused. On the contrary, it was almost too calm. He was obviously looking down on them with contempt.

Hideyoshi sat down on the edge of the porch and said, "No, young man, we're just being careful. We didn't mean to frighten you."

"I'm not frightened at all, but my mother was startled. If you're going to apologize you should apologize to my mother." He spoke fearlessly. This boy did not appear to be a simple peasant. Hideyoshi looked around inside the hut.

"Come, come now, Mosuke. Why are you being so rude to a samurai?" the old woman said. Then she turned and spoke to Hideyoshi. "Well, I don't know who you are but my son never mixes with worldly society and is just a willful country boy who doesn't know his manners. Please forgive him, sir."

"Are you this young man's mother?"

"Yes, sir."

"You say he's just a country boy who doesn't know his manners, but judging from your speech and his countenance, I find it hard to believe that you're ordinary farmers."

"We scrape out a living by hunting in the winter and making charcoal and selling it in the village in the summer."

"That may be so now, but not formerly. At the very least, you certainly belong to a family of pedigree. I'm not a retainer of the Saito, but due to certain circumstances, I'm lost in these mountains. We have no intention of harming you. If you don't mind, would you please tell me who you are?"

Mosuke, who had sat down next to his mother, suddenly asked, "Master samurai, you speak with an Owari accent too. Are you from Owari?"

"Yes, I was born in Nakamura."

"Nakamura? Not far from us. I was born in Gokiso."

“Then we're from the same province."

“If you’re a retainer from Owari, I'll tell you everything. My father's name was Horio Tanomo.  He served Lord Oda Nobukiyo at the fortress of Koguchi."

“How strange, if your father was a retainer of Lord Nobukiyo, then you would also be a retainer of Lord Nobunaga." I've met a good person here, Hideyoshi thought happily.

After he had been made governor of Sunomata, he had searched out men of ability to serve him. His way of handling men was not to employ them first and then make his judgment. If he trusted a man, he would immediately employ him, and then gradually put him to use. He had acted in the same way when he took a wife. He had an unusual talent for distinguishing true talent from mimicry.

"Yes, I understand. But I think, as Mosuke's mother, you don't want him to live out his life as a charcoal burner and hunter. Why don't you entrust your son to me? I know it will be taking all that you have. My status isn't high, but I'm a retainer of Lord Oda Nobunaga, Kinoshita Hideyoshi by name. My stipend is low, and I think of myself as some­one who is going out into the world armed with but a single spear. Will you serve me?" Hideyoshi asked, watching mother and child.

"What? Me?" Mosuke's eyes opened wide.

So happy she wondered if it was a dream, the old lady's eyes filled with tears. "If he is able to serve as a retainer to the Oda clan, my husband—who died dishonored in bat­tle—would be so happy. Mosuke! Accept this offer and cleanse your father's name."

Mosuke, of course, made no objection, and immediately swore the oath of allegiance of a retainer.

Then Hideyoshi gave Mosuke his first order: "We are making our way to the rear of Inabayama Castle. We have a map of the mountains, but cannot find the right path. It's a rather difficult task for your first act of service, but you must guide us there. I'm counting on you."

Mosuke studied the map for a while, folded it up, and gave it back to Hideyoshi. "I understand. Does anyone need to eat? Did you bring along enough for two meals each?"

Having lost their way, they were just at the point of exhausting the rations they had carried along.

"It's only two and a half leagues to the castle, but we'd still better bring enough for two meals."

Mosuke quickly cooked rice and mixed in millet, bean paste, and salted plums, enough for ten men. Then he shouldered a single coil of hemp rope, and fixed flint and tinder and his father's sword at his side.

"Mother, I'm leaving," Mosuke said. "To go to battle is an auspicious start in serving my lord, but depending on my fate as a samurai, this may be our last farewell. If that should come to pass, please resign yourself to the loss of your son."

It was time to leave, but mother and child were naturally unwilling to part. Hideyoshi could hardly bear to watch. He walked away from the house and looked at the pitch black mountains.

Just as Mosuke was leaving, his mother called him back. She held out a gourd. "Fill this with water and take it along," she told him. "You're bound to be thirsty along the way."

Hideyoshi and the others were pleased. Until now, they had suffered from lack of water more than once. There were only a few places where springs bubbled up in the rocky crags. But the closer they came to the peak, the less water there would be.

When they reached a cliff, Mosuke tossed his rope, tied it to the base of the root of a pine, and scrambled up first, then pulled the others up behind him.

"From here on, the path becomes even more difficult to follow," he said. "There are a number of places, like the guardhouse at Akagawa Cave, where we might be caught by the guards." Hearing that, Hideyoshi understood the extent of Mosuke's prudence when, having been shown the map of the mountain, he had looked at it for a moment, not giving any quick reply. There was still something of the child about Mosuke, but he thought things out thoroughly, and Hideyoshi felt all the more affection for him.

The water in the gourd eventually became sweat on the ten men. Mosuke wiped a torrent of perspiration from his face and said, "We'll hardly be able to fight if we're this tired. Why don't we sleep here?"

"It would be good to sleep," Hideyoshi agreed, but then asked how much farther it was to the rear of the castle.

"Just down there," Mosuke said, pointing directly into the valley.

They were all excited, but Mosuke silenced them with a wave of his hand. "We can't speak out loud anymore. The wind may carry our voices in the direction of the castle."

Hideyoshi peered down into the valley. The dark trees enveloping the valley looked like an unfathomable lake. But when he looked long and hard, he could just make out the outline of a wall made of huge rocks, a stockade, and something like a storehouse be­tween the trees.

"We're straight above the enemy here. All right, let's sleep until dawn."

The men slept on the ground, and Mosuke wrapped the now-empty gourd in a cloth and put it under his master's head. While the others slept for about two hours, Mosuke was awake, standing guard a little way off.

"Hey!" he called out.

Hideyoshi lifted his head. "What is it, Mosuke?"

Mosuke pointed to the east. "Sunrise."

Indeed, the night sky was beginning to show a tint of white. A sea of clouds covered the peaks. The valley behind Inabayama Castle, which was immediately below them, could not be seen at all.

"Well, let's start our raid," one of the men said, and Hikoemon and the others trem­bled with excitement, tying the cords of their armor and adjusting their leggings.

"No, wait. Let's eat first," Hideyoshi said.

While the sun came out over the vast ocean of clouds, they finished the second of the two meals Mosuke had prepared the night before. The gourd was empty, but the rice mixed with millet and wrapped in oak leaves, tasted so sweet they thought they would never forget it as long as they lived.

When they had finished eating, the mist in the valley below began to clear. They could see a precipice and a vine-covered suspension bridge. Beyond the bridge was a stone wall covered with thick green moss. The place was dark, and a desolate wind blew constantly.

"Where's the flare tube?" Hideyoshi asked. "Give it to Mosuke and teach him how to set it off."

Hideyoshi stood up and asked Mosuke if he understood how to use the flare, then said,  “We’re going down now to cut our way in. Keep your ears open. As soon as you hear shouting, set off the flare. All right? Don't slip up."

"I understand." Mosuke nodded and stood next to the signal tube. Seeing his master and the others off as they descended into the valley in high spirits, he looked a little unhappy. He would have liked to go with them. The clouds began to look like raging billows, and the plain between Mino and Owari became visible beneath them at last.

Since it was still early fall, the sun shone down harshly. Very quickly the castle town of Inabayama, the waters of the Nagara River, and even the crossroads among the houses came into sight. Yet not a soul could be seen. The sun rose higher.

What's happening? Mosuke asked himself nervously. His heart was pounding. Then, suddenly, he heard the echoing reports of firearms. The smoke of the signal he fired trailed into the blue sky, like a squid squirting ink.

Hideyoshi and his men had walked toward the rear of the castle with faces completely composed, looking here and there around the wide, empty space where the grass was growing thick.

The first soldiers of Inabayama Castle to see the party thought that it was composed of their own men. Stationed at the neighboring fuel warehouse and rice storeroom, they ate their morning rations and gossiped. Even though there had been several days of steady fighting, this was a large citadel, and all of the action had been taking place around the front gate. Here at the rear of this natural fortress, it was so quiet you could hear the chirping of birds.

When there was fighting at the front of the castle, the soldiers at the rear could hear the sound of firearms crackling from the direction of the tortuous path to the front gate.  But the few soldiers who guarded the rear thought they would not take part in the battle until the very end.

"They're really having it out, up front," one of the soldiers said complacently.

Eating their rations, the soldiers watched Hideyoshi and his men, and finally began to regard them with suspicion. "Who are they?"

"You mean those men over there?"

"Uh-huh. It's sort of strange, the way they're hanging around, don't you think? They're looking into the guardhouse by the stockade."

"They've probably come from the front lines."

"But who are they?"

"It's hard to tell when they're in armor."

"Hey! One of them's come out of the kitchen with a firebrand! What do you suppose he’s going to do with it?"

As they watched with chopsticks in hand, the man carrying the firebrand ran into the fue1 warehouse and ignited the piles of firewood. The others followed, carrying torches and throwing them into the other buildings.

"It's the enemy!" the guards yelled.

Hideyoshi and Hikoemon turned in their direction and laughed,

How did this seemingly impregnable stronghold fall so easily? First, the interior of the castle was thrown into confusion by the outbreak of fire at the rear. Second, the shouts of Hideyoshi and his men panicked the defenders, and they started to fight among themselves, thinking there must be traitors in their midst. But the most important factor in their defeat, understood only afterward, was the result of someone's advice.

Several days before, the dimwitted Tatsuoki had brought the wives and children of the soldiers fighting outside the castle, as well as the families of wealthy townsfolk, into the castle as hostages, so that his soldiers would not submit to the enemy.

The man who devised this policy, however, was none other than Iyo, one of the Three Men of Mino, who had already allied himself with Hideyoshi. So this "strategy" was nothing more than a seditious plot. Because of this, the confusion inside the castle during the attack was terrible, and the defenders were unable to put up full resistance to the attackers. Finally, Nobunaga, who was always looking out for an opportunity, sent Tatsuoki a letter at the height of the confusion:

Today your immoral clan is engulfed in the flames of divine punishment and will soon be overwhelmed by my soldiers. The people of this province look for a sign of rain that will put out these fires, and shouts of joy are already rising from the castle town. You are the nephew of my wife. For many years I have pitied your cowardice and folly, and cannot bear putting you to the sword. Rather, I would gladly spare your life and grant you a stipend. If you wish to live, surrender and quickly send an envoy to my camp.

As soon as Tatsuoki read the letter, he ordered his men to surrender, and he and members of his family left the castle, accompanied by only thirty retainers. Attaching his own soldiers to them as an escort, Nobunaga exiled Tatsuoki to Kaisei, but he promised to give his younger brother, Shingoro, some land so that the Saito clan might not vanish.

With the unification of Owari and Mino, the value of Nobunaga's domains rose to one million two hundred thousand bushels of rice. Nobunaga moved his castle for the third time, from Mount Komaki to Inabayama, which he renamed Gifu, after the birth­place of China's Chou Dynasty.

"Be a Friendly Neighbor"

The castle town of Kiyosu was now deserted. There were few shops and samurai resi­dences. Nevertheless, through that very desolation there shone the satisfaction of shed­ding a skin. It is a principle of all living things: once the womb has carried out its function, it must be content to decay and fall away. And very much in this way, it was a joy to everyone that Nobunaga was not going to be trapped forever in his hometown, even if it meant the town's decline.

And here, such a woman who had given birth was growing old. This was Hideyoshi's mother. She would be fifty this year. For the moment she was peacefully tending to her old age, living with her daughter-in-law, Nene, at their house in the samurai district of Kiyosu. But until two or three years before she had been a farmer, and the joints of her earth-chapped hands were still calloused. Having given birth to four children, she was missing many of her teeth. Her hair, however, was still not all white.

One letter that Hideyoshi wrote to her from the field was typical of many:

How is your hip? Are you still using moxa? When we lived on the farm you always said, "Don't waste food on me," no matter what it was. So even here I worry that you're not eating properly. You must live a long life. I'm worried that I won't have time to take care of you as I'd like, because I'm such a dunce. Happily, I have not been sick here. My fate as a warrior seems to be blessed, and His Lordship holds me in high regard.

After the invasion of Mino, it would be difficult to count the letters he sent.

"Nene, read this. He always writes like a child." Hideyoshi's mother said to Nene.

Every time, his mother would show the letters to her daughter-in-law, and Nene would show the old lady the letters that came to her.

"The letters he sends to me aren't nearly as tender. It's always things like 'Be careful of fire,' or 'Be a dutiful wife when your husband is away,' or 'Look after my mother.'"

"That boy is clever. He sends a letter to you and one to me; one strict, the other tender. So I guess he divides his letter writing just right when you consider that he covers both sides."

"That must be it," Nene said, laughing. She looked after her husband's mother with devotion. She did her best to serve her as though she, like Otsumi, were her natural daughter. Above all other things, however, the old lady's pleasure came from Hideyoshi’s letters. Just at the point when they were worrying because they hadn't received one for a long time, a letter arrived from Sunomata. For some reason, however, this letter was just for his wife, with nothing addressed to his mother.

Sometimes letters from Hideyoshi came just to his mother, with nothing for his wife. His messages to her were ordinarily just postscripts to the letters to his mother. He had never sent one strictly to his wife until today. Nene suddenly thought that something must be wrong, or that there was something he did not want to worry his mother about. Going into her own room and cutting open the envelope, she found an unusually long letter:

For a long time it has been my hope that I could have you and my mother living here with me. Now that I have finally become the lord of a castle and have been awarded ageneral's standard by His Lordship, the situation is tolerable enough to invite my mother to Sunomata. I wonder, however, if it wouldn't discomfort her. She was concerned before that her presence would be a burden to me in my service to His Lordship. She has also always said that she is just an old farm woman, and that this life would be far beyond her status. For this reason, she is certain to refuse with some exccuse, even if I ask her.

What should I say? Nene had no idea. She thought that her husband's implied request was grave, indeed.

Just then the old lady's voice called to her from the rear of the house. "Nene! Nene Come here for a moment and look!"

"Coming!" Again today she was hoeing the earth around the roots of the autum eggplants. It was afternoon and still rather hot. Even the clods of earth in the garden were hot. Sweat shone on her hands.

"My goodness! In this heat?" Nene said.

But the old lady always replied that that was what farm people liked to do, and not to worry. No matter how many times Nene heard this, however, since she did not have farmer's upbringing and did not know the real flavor of farming, to her it had always looked like nothing more than backbreaking work. Still, she had recently felt that she was beginning to understand, at least a little, why her husband's mother was unable to stop working.

The old lady often referred to crops as "the gifts of the earth." The fact that she had been able to raise four children in great poverty and that she herself had not starved to death was one of those gifts. In the morning she clapped her hands toward the sun in prayer and said that this, too, was a habit from her time in Nakamura. She would not for­get her former life.

Occasionally she said that if she suddenly became used to gorgeous clothes and sumptuous meals and forgot the blessings of the sun and earth, she would certainly be punished and become sick.

"Oh, Nene, look at this!" As soon as she saw her daughter-in-law, Hideyoshi's mother put the mattock down and pointed happily at her work. "Look at how many of the egg­plants are ripe. We'll pickle them so we can eat them this winter. Bring the baskets over, and let's pick a few now."

When Nene returned, she gave one of the two baskets to her mother-in-law. As she began picking eggplants and putting them into the baskets, she said, "With all your hard work we're going to have enough vegetables for all the soup and pickles the house will need."

"I imagine the shops we patronize are going to be annoyed."

"Well, the servants say you enjoy it, and that it's good for your health. And it's cer­tainly economical, so it must be a good thing."

"It won't be good for Hideyoshi's reputation if people think we're doing it just to be stingy. We'll just have to try to buy something else from the merchants so they won't think that way."

"Yes, let's do that. Well, Mother, I feel badly speaking about this, but a letter arrived from Sunomata just a little while ago."

"Oh? From my son?"

"Yes… but this time it wasn't addressed to you; it came just for me."

"Either way is just fine. Well, is everything as usual? Is he all right? We haven't received any news for a while, and I thought this must be due to His Lordship moving to Gifu."

"That's right. In the letter he asked me to tell you that His Lordship has made him the governor of a castle, so he thinks the time is right for us to join him. He asked me to persuade you to come, and said that you should definitely move to Sunomata Castle in a few days' time."

"Oh… that's wonderful news. That he should become the lord of a castle is like a dream, but he shouldn't go too far and overstep himself."

As she listened to happy news about her son, her mother's heart worried lest his good fortune should prove to be short-lived. The old lady and her daughter-in-law worked together in the garden, picking eggplants. Soon the baskets were full of the bright purple vegetables.

"Mother, doesn't your back hurt?"

"What? Why, to the contrary. If I work bit by bit like this all day, my body stays fit."

"I'm learning from you, too. Since you've let me help you in the garden off and on, I’ve learned to enjoy picking the greens for the soup in the mornings, and working with he cucumbers and eggplants. Even after we move to Sunomata Castle, there's bound to be a place somewhere on the grounds to plant a vegetable patch. We'll be able to work all we want."

The old lady covered her mouth with her earth-stained hand and chuckled. "You're just as clever as Hideyoshi. You decided to move to Sunomata even before I knew what was happening."

"Mother." Nene prostrated herself, pressing her fingertips to the earth. "Please grant my husband's wish!" The old lady hastily took Nene's hands and tried to put them to her forehead.

"Don't do that! I'm just a selfish old woman."

"No, you're not. I understand your thoughtfulness very well."

"Please don't get mad at an old lady's willfulness. It's for that boy's sake that I don’t want to go to Sunomata. And so he won't be lacking in his service to His Lordship."

"My husband understands that well."

"Even if that's true, Hideyoshi will be among people jealous of his early success, an they'll call him things like 'the monkey from Nakamura,' or 'the son of a farmer,' if shabby farm woman is working a vegetable plot in the middle of the castle grounds. Eve his own retainers will laugh at him."

"No, Mother. You're worrying about the future needlessly. That might be for someone whose character it is to dress up appearances and to worry about what people say but my husband's heart is not controlled by public censure. And as for his retainers…"

"I wonder. The mother of a castle lord who looks like me—wouldn't it harm his reputation?"

"My husband's character is not that small." Nene's words were so frank that the old lady was surprised, and finally her eyes filled with tears of joy.

"I've said unpardonable things. Nene, please forgive me."

"Well, Mother, the sun's going down. Wash your hands and feet." Nene walked ahead carrying the two heavy baskets.

Together with the servants, Nene took a broom and swept. She was especially diligent in the old lady's room, which she cleaned herself. The lamps were lit, and the dishes for the evening meal prepared. In addition to places for the two of them, a place was set both morning and evening for Hideyoshi.

"Shall I massage your hip?" Nene asked.

The old lady had a chronic condition that troubled her from time to time. When the evening winds blew in the early fall, she often complained of the pain. As Nene massaged her legs for her, the old lady seemed to slip gently into sleep, but during that time she must have been thinking something over. Finally she sat up and spoke to Nene.

"Listen, my dear. You want to be reunited with your husband. I'm sorry to have been so selfish. Tell my son that his mother would like to move to Sunomata."

The day before Hideyoshi's mother was due to arrive, an unexpected but very welcome guest came through the gate of Sunomata. The guest was dressed in plain clothes with a sedge hat pulled over his eyes, and was accompanied by only two attendants, young woman and a boy.

“When he sees me, he'll understand," the man said to the guard, who relayed word to Hideyoshi.

Hideyoshi hurried out to the castle gate to greet his guests, Takenaka Hanbei, Kokuma, and Oyu.

"These are my only followers," Hanbei told him. "I have a fair-sized household living in my castle on Mount Bodai, but I cut my ties with them when I withdrew from the world. As for my previous promise to you, my lord, I thought that perhaps the time had come, so I left my mountain retreat and came down to be among men once again. Would you please take in these three wanderers as the lowest of your attendants?"

Hideyoshi bowed with his hands to his knees and said, "You are much too modest. If you had sent me just a note beforehand, I would have come to the mountain myself to greet you."

"What? You'd come to greet a worthless mountain ronin who has come to serve you?"

"Well, anyway, please come in." Leading the way, he beckoned Hanbei inside; but when Hideyoshi tried to give him the seat of honor, Hanbei absolutely refused, saying, “That would be contrary to my intention of being your retainer."

Hideyoshi responded with his innermost feelings. "No, no. I don't have the talent to place myself over you. I'm thinking of recommending you to Lord Nobunaga."

Hanbei shook his head and refused adamantly. "As I said from the very first, I haven't the least intention of serving Lord Nobunaga. And it isn't just a matter of loyalty to the Saito clan. If I were to serve Lord Nobunaga, it would not be long before I would be forced to leave his service. When I consider my own imperfect personality together with what I have heard about his character, my intuition is that a master-retainer relationship would not be mutually beneficial. But with you I don't have to temper my disposition, you can tolerate my innate selfishness and willfulness. I'd like you to consider me the low­est of your retainers."

"Well, then, will you teach strategy not just to me but to all my retainers?"

With that, the two men seemed to arrive at a compromise, and that night they shared sake, talking happily until a late hour, with no thought of the time. The next day was the day of Hideyoshi's mother's arrival at Sunomata. Accompanied by attendants, he traveled a little more than a league from the castle to the outskirts of the village of Masaki to greet his mother's palanquin.

There was an azure sky, the chrysanthemums at the rough-woven fences around the people's houses gave off their fragrance, and shrikes sang their shrill songs in the branches of the ginkgo trees.

"Your honored mother's procession has come into view," announced a retainer.

Hideyoshi's face shone with a pleasure he was unable to conceal. His wife's and mother's palanquins finally arrived. When the escorting samurai saw their master coming out to greet them, they immediately dismounted. Hachisuka Hikoemon quickly drew near to the side of the old lady's palanquin and informed her that Hideyoshi had come to neet her.

Inside the palanquin, the voice of the old lady could be heard asking them to let her down. The palanquins were brought to a halt and lowered to the ground. The warriors knelt at either side of the road and bowed. Nene got out first and, going over to the old lady's palanquin, took her hand. When she glanced at the face of the samurai who had quickly placed straw sandals at the old woman's feet, she saw that it was Hideyoshi.

Deeply moved and with no time to say a word, Nene greeted her husband with a quick glance.

Taking her son's hand, the old lady pressed it to her forehead reverently and said, "As the lord of a castle, you are much too gracious. Please don't be so solicitous in front of your retainers."

"I'm relieved to see that you look so healthy. You tell me not to be solicitous, but, Mother, my very own Mother, I did not come out to greet you today as a samurai. Please don't worry."

The old lady stepped out of the palanquin. The other samurai had all prostrated themselves on the ground, and she felt too dazed to walk.

"You must be tired," Hideyoshi said. "Rest here for a little while. It's no more than a league to the castle." Taking his mother by the hand, he led her to a stool under the eaves of a house. The old lady sat down and gazed at the autumn sky that spread above the solid yellow line of ginkgo trees.

"It's just like a dream," she whispered. The words made Hideyoshi reflect on the years. He was unable to feel that this moment was like a dream. He saw very clearly the steps connecting the present reality and the past. And he felt that this moment was a nat­ural milestone in his career.

The following month, after Hideyoshi's mother and wife had moved to Sunomata, they were followed by his twenty-nine-year-old sister, Otsumi, his twenty-three-year-old half brother, Kochiku, and his twenty-year-old half sister.

Otsumi was still unmarried. Long before, Hideyoshi had promised that if she looked after their mother, when he became successful, he would find her a husband. The follow­ing year, Otsumi married a relative of Hideyoshi's wife in the castle.

"They've all grown up," Hideyoshi said to his mother, looking at the satisfaction in her face. This was his happiness, and his great incentive for the future.

It was late spring. Cherry blossoms fell in profusion from the eaves onto the armrest on which Nobunaga was napping.

“Ah… that's right." Recalling something, Nobunaga quickly jotted down a note and had a messenger take it to Sunomata. Because Hideyoshi had become the lord of a castle, he was no longer on hand to respond immediately whenever Nobunaga called, and this seemed to make his lord a little lonely.

Crossing the large Kiso River, Nobunaga's messenger delivered the note to the gate of Hideyoshi's castle. Here, too, the spring had passed peacefully, and the flowers of the mountain wisteria swayed in the shade of the artificial hill in the garden. Behind this hill, on the edge of the wide garden, were a newly built lecture hall and a small house for Takenaka Hanbei and Oyu.

The lecture hall was a dojo where Hideyoshi's retainers could practice the martial arts.  With Takenaka Hanbei as their teacher, the retainers were lectured on the Chinese classics in he morning, and vied with one another in techniques of the spear and sword in the afternoon.

Later Hanbei would lecture on the military precepts of Sun Tzu and Wu Chi late into the night. Hanbei applied himself zealously to the education of all the young samurai in order to discipline them in the martial habits and customs of the castle; most of Hideyoshi's retainers were the wild ronin who had once been members of Hikoemon's band.

Hideyoshi knew that he had to work constantly to improve himself, to overcome his faults, and to increase his capacity for self-reflection, and he was determined that his samurai must be made to do the same. If he was to play an important role in future, retainers armed with brute strength alone were not going to be useful. Hideyoshi was anx­ious about this. Thus, along with embracing Hanbei as a retainer, he also bowed to him as his own teacher and looked up to him as his instructor in military science, and en­trusted to him the education of his retainers.

Martial discipline improved greatly. When Hanbei lectured on Sun Tzu or the Chinese classics, men like Hikoemon could always be seen on the listener's platform. The only problem was that Hanbei was not very robust. Because of that, the lectures were can­celed from time to time, and the retainers were disappointed. Today, too, he had exerted himself during the day and said that he was canceling the evening lectures. When evening came, he quickly had the sliding doors of the house shut.

The evening wind from the upper reaches of the Kiso River chilled Hanbei's weak constitution all the more, even though the season was late spring.

"I've laid out your bed inside. Why don't you sleep?" Oyu placed a medicinal decoction next to his desk. Hanbei was reading, his usual occupation when he had some leisure time.

"No, it's not so much that I feel bad. I canceled the lecture because I think a summons may come from Lord Hideyoshi. Rather than preparations for bed, arrange my clothing so that if there is a call, I can go out quickly."

"Is that it? Is there a meeting in the castle tonight?"

"Not at all." Hanbei sipped the hot decoction. "A little while ago when you closed the door, you yourself told me that a boat with a messenger's flag from Gifu had crossed the river, and that someone was coming toward the castle gate."

"Is that what you're talking about?"

"If it's a message from Gifu for Lord Hideyoshi, there's no limit to what or where this business may lead. Even if I'm not summoned, I can hardly loosen my sash and sleep."

"The lord of this castle respects you as his teacher, and you venerate him as your lord, so I hardly know whose respect is greater. Are you really so resolved to serve this man?"

Smiling, Hanbei shut his eyes and turned his face toward the ceiling. "I guess it's finally come to that. It's a frightening thing for a man to be trusted by another. I could never be led astray by the beauty of a woman." Just as he was saying this, a messenger arrived from the keep. He announced Hideyoshi's request that Hanbei come quickly, and left. Shortly thereafter a page came before Hideyoshi, who was alone in quiet contempla­tion, and made an announcement. "Master Hanbei has come."

Hideyoshi looked up from his musings and quickly left the room to welcome Hanbei. The two returned to the room and sat down.

"I'm sorry to have called you here in the middle of the night. How do you feel?"

Hanbei looked squarely at Hideyoshi, who, for his part, was apparently going to treat him as his teacher to the very end. "This consideration is uncalled for. If you, my lord, speak to me like that, how am I going to be able to respond? Why don't you say something like, 'Oh, it's you, Hanbei'? I think this kind of solicitude toward a retainer is inappropriate."

"Really? Well, do you suppose this is no good for our relationship?"

"I just didn't think my lord should respect someone like me the way you do."

"Why not?" Hideyoshi laughed. "I'm uneducated, and you're quite learned. I was born in the country, and you're the son of the lord of a castle. Anyway, I think of you as my superior."

"If that's the way it's to be, I'm going to be more careful from now on."

"All right, all right," Hideyoshi said playfully. "We'll gradually become lord and retainer. If I become an even greater man."

For the lord of a castle, he was going to extraordinary lengths not to stand on his own dignity. In fact, he was willing to stand completely naked before Hanbei in terms of his own foolishness and ignorance.

"Well, then, why did you summon me, my lord?" Hanbei asked politely.

"Oh, yes," Hideyoshi said, suddenly recalling the object of their meeting. "I've just received a letter from Lord Nobunaga. This is what it says: 'With a little leisure, I've suddenly grown bored even with the prize of Gifu. The wind and clouds are peaceful, and I would like to look at them once again. The beauties of nature have still not become my friends What shall we do about this year's plans?' How do you suppose I should answer it?"

"Well, the meaning is clear, so you should be able to answer it with a single line."

"Hm. I understand it, but how could I answer it in a single line?"

"Be a friendly neighbor; make plans for the future."

'"Be a friendly neighbor; make plans for the future'?"

"That's it."

"Hm. I see."

"I suspect that Lord Nobunaga is thinking that, having taken Gifu, this year is the time to put his internal administration in order, rest his troops, and wait for another day,” Hanbei said.

"I'm sure that's what his plans are, but with his disposition, he can't just let the day pass in idleness. That's why he sent this letter asking about policy."

"Planning for the future, allying himself with his neighbors—I think the present is probably a splendid opportunity for that."

"So?" Hideyoshi asked.

'It's just my humble opinion, because you, rather than I, are the one who is said to be capable in so many areas. First, answer with just one line: 'Be friendly with neighbor; make plans for the future.' Then, at a convenient moment, go to Gifu Castie and explain your plan in person."

Why don't we each write down which province we think it would be best for the Oda to ally itself with, and then compare to see if we're thinking the same thing?"

Hanbei wrote something first, and then Hideyoshi put the brush to a piece of paper.

When they exchanged the papers and unfolded them, they found that they had both Written "Takeda of Kai," and they broke out in laughter, delighted that they were both thinking along the same lines.

The lamps were bright in the guest room. The messenger from Gifu was given the seat of honor, and Hideyoshi's mother and wife were also in attendance. When Hideyoshi took his seat, the lamps seemed suddenly even more cheerful and the room more lively.

Nene thought that her husband seemed to be drinking a good bit more sake these days, at least compared with the past. She watched his easy attitude throughout the ban­quet as though she saw nothing at all. He was entertaining his guest, making his mother laugh, and he seemed to be enjoying himself. Even Hanbei, who never drank, put the sake cup to his lips and sipped a little to toast Hideyoshi.

Others joined the banquet, and it soon became quite boisterous. When his mother and Nene had retired, Hideyoshi walked outside to sober up. The blossoms of the young cherry trees had already fallen, and only the fragrance of the mountain wisteria filled the night.

"Ah! Who's that under the trees?" Hideyoshi called out.

"It's me," replied a woman's voice.

"Oyu, what are you doing here?"

"My brother is so late in coming back, and he's so weak, I was worried."

"It's a wonderful thing to see such a beautiful relationship between brother and sister."

Hideyoshi walked up to her side. She was about to prostrate herself, but he caught her hands. "Oyu, let's walk over to the teahouse over there. I'm so drunk that I'm not sure of my footing. I'd like you to make me a bowl of tea."

"My goodness! My hands! This isn't right. Please let go."

"It's all right. Don't worry."

"You-you shouldn't be doing this."

"It's really all right."

"Please!"

"Why are you being so noisy? Please whisper. You're being cruel."

"This is not right!"

At that moment Hanbei called out. He was on his way back to his house. When Hideyoshi saw him, he immediately let go of Oyu. Hanbei stared at him in amazement. "My lord, what kind of drunken craziness is this?"

Hideyoshi slapped his head with his hand. Then, either laughing at his own foolish­ness or at his lack of elegance, he opened his mouth wide and said, "Yes, well, what's wrong? This is 'being friendly with neighbors and planning for the future.' Don't worry about it."

Summer turned to fall. One day Hikoemon came with a message for Hanbei, re­questing that Oyu become a lady-in-waiting for Hideyoshi's mother. When Oyu heard the request, she shrank in fear. She burst into tears. That was her answer to Hideyoshi's request.

A tea bowl that has no imperfections is said to be lacking in beauty, and Hideyoshi's character, too, was not without blemish. Though the elegance of a tea bowl, or even human frailty itself, may be interesting to contemplate, from a woman's point of view this flaw cannot be "interesting" at all. When his sister broke into tears just at the mention of the matter, Hanbei thought her refusal was reasonable, and conveyed it to Hikoemon.

Autumn, too, passed without incident. In Gifu, the principle of "being a friendly neighbor and planning for the future" was put into practice. For the Oda clan, the Takeda of Kai had always been a threat at the rear. Arrangements were soon made for Nobunaga's daughter to be married to Takeda Shingen's son, Katsuyori. The bride was a young girl of thirteen and an incomparable beauty. She had been adopted, however, and was not one of Nobunaga's natural daughters. Nevertheless, after the marriage ceremony, it seemed that Shingen was extraordinarily pleased with her, and the union was soon blessed with a son, Taro.

For the time being at least, the Oda clan's northern border would have seemed to be secure, but the young bride died giving birth to Taro. Nobunaga then had his eldest son Nobutada, betrothed to Shingen's sixth daughter, to prevent the weakening of the alliance between the two provinces. He also sent a proposal of marriage ties to Tokugawa Ieyasu of Mikawa. Thus, the military alliance that already existed between the two was strengthened by family bonds. At the time of their engagement, Ieyasu's eldest son, Takechiyo, and Nobunaga's daughter were both eight years old. This policy was also used with the Sasaki clan in Omi. And so the castle at Gifu was busy with celebrations for the next two years.

*  *  *

The samurai's face was hidden in the shadow of a broad hat of woven sedge. He was tall, around forty years of age. Judging from his clothes and sandals, he was a wandering swordsman who had been on the road for some time. Even from behind, his body seemed to leave no opening for attack. He had just finished his midday meal, and was stepping out into a street in Gifu. He walked about, looking around, without any particular purpose. From time to time he would comment to himself how much such-and-such a place had changed.

From any spot in the town, the traveler could look up and see the towering walls of Gifu Castle. Holding the rim of his low, conical hat, he gazed at them for a while in fascination.

Suddenly a passerby, probably a merchant's wife, turned and stopped to look at him. She whispered something to the clerk accompanying her, and then hesitantly approached the swordsman. "Excuse me. It's rude of me to stop you in the street like this, but aren’t you Master Akechi's nephew?"

Caught off guard, the swordsman quickly responded, "No!" and walked off in great strides. After going ten or so steps, however, he turned and looked at the woman, who was still staring at him. That's Shunsai the armorer's daughter, he thought. She must be married by now.

He wound his way through the streets. Two hours later he was near the Nagara River. He sat down on the grassy riverbank and gazed at the water. He could have stayed there forever. The reeds rustled in desolate whispers under a pale, chilly autumn sun.

“Master Swordsman?" Someone tapped him on the shoulder.

Mitsuhide turned around to see three men—most likely a patrol of Oda samurai on police duty.

"What are you doing?" one asked casually. But the faces of the three men were tense and suspicious.

"I was tired from walking, and stopped to rest a bit," the swordsman answered calmly. "Are you from the Oda clan?" he asked, standing up and brushing the grass from his clothes.

"We are," the soldier said stiffly. "Where have you come from, and where are you going?"

"I'm from Echizen. I have a relative at the castle and have been looking for some way to get in touch."

"A retainer?"

"No."

"But didn't you just say that it was someone at the castle?"

"She's not a retainer. She's a member of the household."

"What's her name?"

"I hesitate to say it here."

"What about your name?"

"That too."

"You mean you don't want to talk in the open?"

"That's right."

"Well then, you'll have to come with us to the guardhouse."

They probably suspected him of being a spy. Just in case he was going to put up a struggle, one of the men called out toward the road, where a mounted samurai, who appeared to be their leader, and another ten foot soldiers were waiting.

"This is just what I'd hoped for. Lead on." With that, the swordsman started off quickly.

In Gifu, as in every other province, security checks at the river crossings, in the castle town, and at the borders were strict. Nobunaga had only recently moved to Gifu Castle, and with the complete change of administration and laws, the duties of the magistrates were numerous. Although some complained that the patrolling was too strict, there were still many former retainers of the deposed Saito clan in the town, and the plots of enemy provinces were often at an advanced stage.

Mori Yoshinari was well suited to the post of chief magistrate, but like any warrior, he preferred the battlefield to civilian duties. When he went back home in the evening, he would heave a sigh of relief. And he would show his wife the same weary after-work expression every night.

"A letter came for you from Ranmaru."

When he heard the name Ranmaru, Yoshinari smiled. News from the castle was one of Yoshinari's few pleasures. Ranmaru was the son he had sent as a child to serve in the castle. It was clear from the very beginning that Ranmaru would be of no real service, but he was an attractive boy and had caught Nobunaga's eye, and so he had become one of his personal attendants. Recently he had been mixing with the pages and seemed to be performing some sort of duties.

"What was the news?" Yoshinari's wife asked.

"Nothing, really. Everything is peaceful, and His Lordship is in a good mood."

"He didn't write anything about being sick?"

"No, he said he was in excellent health," Yoshinari replied.

"That boy is cleverer than most. He's probably being careful not to make his parents

worry."

"I suppose so," Yoshinari said. "But he's still a baby, and it must be a strain for him be at His Lordship's side all of the time."

"I imagine he'd like to come home from time to time and be spoiled a little."

At that point a samurai appeared and announced that soon after Yoshinari had returned home something had occurred at his office, and that some of his subordinates had come to confer with him even though it was late at night. The three officers were waiting at the entrance.

"What is it?" Yoshinari asked the three men.

The leader made his report. "Toward the end of the day, one of our patrols arrested a suspicious-looking swordsman near the Nagara River."

"And?"

"He acted very obediently all the way to the guardhouse. When we questioned him he stubbornly refused to give his name or native province, and said that he would only do so if he could speak to Master Yoshinari. He went on to say that he was not a spy, and that a relative of his—a woman—had been working in the Oda household from the time His Lordship resided in Kiyosu. But he would not say any more unless he could meet with the man in charge. He was very stubborn."

"Well, well. How old is he?"

"About forty."

"What kind of man is he?"

"He's rather impressive. It's difficult to think of him as being just one of these wandering swordsmen."

A few moments later the arrested man was brought in. He was led to a room at the back of the house by an elderly retainer. A cushion and some food were waiting for the guest.

"Master Yoshinari will be with you soon," said the old retainer, taking his leave.

Incense smoke drifted into the room. The swordsman, his clothes stained from the journey, realized that the incense was of such quality that had the visitor not been cultivated enough to have a refined sense of smell, it would have been wasted. He waited silently for some sign of the master of the house.

The face that had been obscured by the sedge hat that afternoon was now silently contemplating the flickering light of the lamp. No doubt, he was too pale for the patrol to believe that he was a wandering swordsman. Also, his eyes were peaceful and mild—not what you would expect of a man whose daily life was the sword.

The sliding door opened, and a woman, whose clothes and demeanor showed that she was not a servant, gracefully brought him a bowl of tea. She placed the bowl in front of him without a word, then withdrew, closing the sliding door behind her. Once more, if the guest had not been important, such courtesy would not have been extended.

A few moments later the host, Yoshinari, came in and, by way of greeting, excused himself for having kept his guest waiting.

The swordsman shifted from the cushion to a more formal kneeling position. "Do I have the honor of addressing Master Yoshinari? I'm afraid I created a bit of trouble for your men with my thoughtlessness. I have come on a secret mission from the Asakura clan in Echizen. My name is Akechi Mitsuhide."

"So it is you. I hope you'll excuse the rudeness of my subordinates. I was surprised myself by what I heard a little while ago, and I hurried to meet you."

"I didn't give my name or home province, so how did you know who I am?"

"You spoke of a certain lady—your niece, I believe—who has served in His Lordship's household for some time. When this was reported to me, I guessed it must be you. Your niece is the Lady Hagiji, I believe. She has served Lord Nobunaga's wife since she accom­panied Her Ladyship from Mino to Owari."

"Indeed! I am impressed by your knowledge of such details."

"It's only my job. We routinely look into such things as the home province, lineage, and the relatives of everyone from the senior ladies-in-waiting to the servant girls."

"That's sensible enough."

"We looked into Lady Hagiji's family background as well. At the time of Lord Dosan's death, one of her uncles fled Mino and disappeared. She always spoke sadly with Her Ladyship about a certain Mitsuhide from Akechi Castle. This much has come to me. So when my subordinates informed me of your age and appearance, and told me that you had been walking around the castle town for half a day, I put it all together and guessed that it was you."

"I must congratulate you on your powers of deduction," Mitsuhide said with a re­laxed smile.

Yoshinari glowed with satisfaction. More formally he asked, "But, Master Mitsuhide, what business brings you so far from Echizen?"

Mitsuhide's expression turned grave, and he quickly lowered his voice. "Is anyone else here?" He looked toward the sliding door.

"You don't need to worry. I've sent the servants away. The man on the other side of the door is my most trusted retainer. Other than a man keeping guard at the entrance to the corridor, there is no one else here."

"The fact is that I have been entrusted with two letters for Lord Nobunaga, one from Shogun Yoshiaki, and the other from Lord Hosokawa Fujitaka."

"From the shogun!"

"This had to be kept secret from the Asakura clan at all costs, so I'll leave you to imagine how difficult it's been to come this far."

The previous year, Shogun Yoshiteru had been assassinated by his vice-governor-general, Miyoshi Nagayoshi, and Miyoshi's retainer, Matsunaga Hisahide, who had usurped the shogun's authority. Yoshiteru had two younger brothers. The elder, the abbot of a Buddhist temple, was murdered by the rebels. The younger brother, Yoshiaki, who was then a monk in Nara, realized the danger he was in and escaped with the help of Hosokawa Fujitaka. He hid for a while in Omi, renounced the priesthood, and took the title of fourteenth shogun at the age of twenty-six.

After that, the "wandering shogun" approached the Wada, the Sasaki, and various other clans for assistance. From the very beginning, his plan was not to live on other people’s charity. He planned to defeat his brother's murderers and restore his family's office and authority. He sought help, appealing to distant clans.

This was, however, a great matter involving the entire nation, because Miyoshi and Matsunaga had seized the central government. Although Yoshiaki was shogun in name, he was in fact nothing more than a penniless exile. He had no money, much less an army of his own. Nor was he particularly popular with the people.

Mitsuhide took up the story from Yoshiaki's arrival at Asakura Yoshikage's castle in Echizen. Just at that time, there was an ill-fated man in the service of the Asakura who had not been admitted as a full retainer of the clan. This was he himself, Akechi Mitsuhide. It was there that Mitsuhide had met Hosokawa Fujitaka for the first time.

Mitsuhide went on, "The story is a little long, but if you'll do me the favor of listening to me, I'll ask you to tell it in detail to Lord Nobunaga. Of course, I must hand the shogun's letter to Lord Nobunaga in person."

Then, in order to make his own situation clear, he talked about events from the time he left Akechi Castle and fled to Echizen from Mino. For over ten years, Mitsuhide tasted the hardships of the world. An intellectual by nature, he was easily drawn to books and scholarship. He was thankful for the reverses he had suffered. The time of his wandering, the period of his distress, had certainly been long. Akechi Castle had been destroyed during the civil war in Mino, and only he and his cousin, Mitsuharu, had escaped to Echizen. In the years since Mitsuhide had dropped from sight, he had lived as a ronin and made a scanty living by teaching farm children to read and write.

His only desire was to find the one right lord to serve, and one good opportunity.  As he looked for a way to come up in the world, Mitsuhide studied the martial spirit, economics, and castles of various provinces with the eye of a military strategist, preparing for a later day.

He traveled far and wide and visited all the provinces of western Japan. There waa a good reason for this. The west was always the first place to receive foreign innovation and it was there that he was most likely to gain new knowledge on the subject he had made his specialty—guns. His knowledge of gunnery had led to several episodes in the western provinces. A retainer of the Mori clan, Katsura by name, arrested Mitsuhide in the town of Yamaguchi on suspicion of being a spy. On this occasion he spoke openly of his origins, his situation, and his hopes, and even revealed his evaluations of the neighboring provinces.

While he questioned Mitsuhide, Katsura was so impressed by the depth of his knowledge that he later recommended the traveler to his lord, Mori Motonari. "I think he is quite clearly uncommonly talented. Were he given employment here, I suspect he would accomplish something later on."

The search for talented men was the same everywhere. Certainly such men who 1eft their homes and served other provinces would someday end up as the enemies of their former lords. As soon as Motonari heard of Mitsuhide, he wanted to see him. One day Mitsuhide was summoned to Motonari's castle. The next day Katsura visited Motonari alone, and asked him for his opinion of his guest.

"As you said, there are very few men of talent. We should give him some money and clothes, and send him courteously on his way."

"Yes, but didn't he impress you in some way?"

"Indeed. There are two kinds of great men: the truly great and the villain. Now, if a villain is also a scholar, he is liable to bring ruin upon himself and harm to his lord." Motonari went on, "There is something shifty about his appearance. When he speaks with such composure and clarity in his eyes, he has a charm that's very enticing. Yes, he's truly a captivating man, but I prefer the stolidity of our warriors of the western provinces. If I put this man in the middle of my own warriors, he'd stick out like a crane in a flock of chickens. I object to him for that reason alone." And so Mitsuhide was not taken in by the Mori clan.

He traveled through Hizen and Higo, and the domains of the Otomo clan. He crossed the Inland Sea to the island of Shikoku where he studied the martial arts of the Chosokabe clan.

When Mitsuhide returned to his home in Echizen, he found that his wife had taken ill and died, his cousin, Mitsuharu, had gone to serve another clan, and after six years his situation had not improved. He still could not see even a flicker of light on the road that lay ahead.

At this low point, Mitsuhide went to see Ena, the abbot of the Shonen Temple in Echizen. He rented a house in front of the temple and began to teach the children of the neighborhood. From the very beginning, Mitsuhide did not see schoolteaching as his life's work. Within a couple of years he had become conversant with the administration and problems of the province.

During this period the area was regularly disturbed by uprisings of the warrior-monks of the Ikko sect. One year, when the Asakura troops were wintering in the field during a campaign against the warrior-monks, Mitsuhide asked Ena, "It's just my own humble thought, but I'd like to present a strategy to the Asakura clan. Whom do you suppose it would be best to see?"

Ena immediately understood what was in Mitsuhide's mind. "The man most likely to listen to you would be Asakura Kageyuki."

Mitsuhide entrusted the temple school to Ena and went off to Asakura Kageyuki's camp. Because he had no intermediary, he simply walked into the camp, carrying his plan written down on a single piece of paper. He was arrested, not knowing whether the plan had been given to Kageyuki, and he heard nothing for two months. Although he was a prisoner, Mitsuhide inferred from the movements in the camp and the morale of the troops that Kageyuki was carrying out his plan.

At first Kageyuki had been suspicious of Mitsuhide, which was why he'd been arrested; but since there was no way to break the deadlock in the fighting, he decided to test Mitsuhide's plan. When the two men finally met, Kageyuki praised Mitsuhide as a warrior with an extensive knowledge of the classics and of the martial arts. Giving Mitsuhide the freedom of the camp, Kageyuki summoned him from time to time. It seemed, however, that Mitsuhide was not going to be so easily granted the status of retainer, and so one day he spoke out rather forcefully, even though he was not given to boasting:

"If you loan me a firearm, I'll shoot the enemy general in the middle of his camp."

"You may take one," Kageyuki said, but, still harboring some doubts, he secretly appointed a man to watch Mitsuhide.

It was an age when, even for the wealthy Asakura clan, a single firearm was extremely precious. Thanking him for the favor, Mitsuhide took the gun, mixed in among the troops, and went to the front lines. When the fighting started, he vanished deep behind enemy lines.

Hearing about the disappearance, Kageyuki later demanded to know why the man who was watching Mitsuhide had not shot him in the back. "Perhaps he was an enemy spy after all, feeling out the internal conditions here."

But a few days later it was reported that the enemy general had been shot by an unknown assailant as he inspected the battle lines. The morale of the enemy was said to have been thrown suddenly into confusion.

Soon afterward, Mitsuhide returned to camp. When he appeared before Kageyuki he was quick to ask him, "Why didn't you call out the entire army and rout the enemy? you call yourself a general when you let an opportunity like this slip by with your arms folded?"

Mitsuhide had done what he had promised: he had gone into enemy territory, shot the general, and returned.

When Asakura Kageyuki went back to Ichijogadani Castle, he told the story to Asakura Yoshikage. Yoshikage took one look at Mitsuhide and asked him to serve him. Later, Yoshikage had a target put up in the castle grounds and asked for a demonstration. Mitsuhide, though he was by no means a skilled marksman, demonstrated his skill putting sixty-eight out of one hundred rounds into the target.

Mitsuhide was now given a residence in the castle town and a stipend of one thousand kan, one hundred sons of retainers were put under his instruction, and he again organized a gunners' regiment. Mitsuhide was so grateful to Yoshikage for rescuing him from adversity that for several years he worked tirelessly with no other intention than torepay him for his blessings and good fortune.

His devotion, however, finally brought objections from his peers. They accused him of being conceited and putting on highbrow airs. No matter what the topic of conversation or the activity, his refinement and intellect shone brilliantly for all to see.

This attitude did not sit well with the retainers of this provincial clan, who began to complain about him: "He's plainly conceited."

"He's just a snob."

Naturally, these complaints reached the ears of Yoshikage. Mitsuhide's work also began to suffer. Cold by nature, he was now the target of equally cold looks. It might have been different if Yoshikage had protected him, but he was held back by his own retainers. Winding its way even through Yoshikage's many favorite concubines, the dispute twisted through the castle. Mitsuhide himself was without connections and had just found temporary shelter. He was miserable, but there was nothing to be done.

I made a mistake, Mitsuhide thought. He had food and clothing but was now bitteerly regretting his decision. Having been in such a hurry to escape adversity, the bank he had  crawled out on was the wrong one. Such were his despondent thoughts after spending nothing but unhappy days. I've wasted my entire life! This depression seemed to affect his health, and he began to suffer from a scablike skin disease, which, in time, became serious. Mitsuhide asked Yoshikage for a leave of absence to go for a cure at the spa town of Yamashiro.

While he was there, travelers reported that rebels had attacked the Nijo Palace and murdered Shogun Yoshiteru. Even there, in the mountains, people were shocked and unsettled.

"If the shogun has been murdered, the country's going to fall into chaos again."

Mitsuhide immediately made preparations to return to Ichijogadani. Confusion in Kyoto meant confusion in the whole country. Quite naturally, this event would have af­tereffects in the provinces. Undoubtedly, hurried preparations were being made at that very moment.

I could sulk and be depressed about trivialities, but it would be shameful for a man in his prime, Mitsuhide decided. His skin disease had cleared up at the spa and now Mitsu­hide quickly presented himself before his lord. Yoshikage barely acknowledged his return, and Mitsuhide withdrew before his lord's indifference. He was not summoned after that. He had been relieved of his command of the gunners' regiment in his absence, and ev­erywhere the atmosphere seemed to be hostile. Now that Yoshikage's former reliance on him had completely changed, Mitsuhide was once again prey to mental agony.

It was then that he received the visit from Hosokawa Fujitaka, who could only be described as a heaven-sent visitor. Mitsuhide was so surprised that he went out to greet the man himself, overawed that a person as exalted as Fujitaka had come to his house.

Fujitaka's character was exactly to Mitsuhide's liking. He certainly had the air of a noble and learned man. Mitsuhide had long lamented that he was unable to meet men of real quality, and such a guest naturally brought joy into his heart. He felt doubt, however, about the purpose of Fujitaka's visit.

Although his lineage was noble, at the time he secredy visited Mitsuhide's home, Fujitaka was really nothing more than an exile. Having been driven out of Kyoto, the refugee shogun, Yoshiaki, was fleeing through the provinces. It was Fujitaka who approached Asakura Yoshikage on the shogun's behalf. Touring the provinces preaching loyalty and trying to stir the provincial lords to action, Hosokawa Fujitaka was the only man who suffered with Yoshiaki, trying to overcome his master's pitiful reverses.

"Surely the Asakura clan will declare itself his ally. If fhe two provinces of Wakasa and Echizen joined us, then all the clans of the north would rush to our cause."

Yoshikage was of a mind to refuse. Regardless of what Fujitaka preached about loy­alty, Yoshikage was not inclined to fight for a powerless, exiled shogun. It was not for a lack of military strength or resources, but because Yoshikage supported the status quo.

Fujitaka quickly perceived that the situation was not in their favor and, aware of the nepotism and internal struggles within the Asakura clan, abandoned his efforts there. Yoshiaki and his retainers, however, were already on their way to Echizen.

Although the Asakura clan felt greatly annoyed about having him as a dependent, they could not mistreat the shogun, and designated a temple as his temporary residence. They treated him well but also prayed for his early departure.

Then, quite suddenly, here was Mitsuhide, receiving a visit from Fujitaka. He was, however, still unable to guess the reason for the visit.

"I've heard that you have a taste for poetry. I saw one of your works when you went to Mishima," Fujitaka said by way of an opening remark. He did not look like a man whose heart was suffering. His countenance was absolutely mild and benign.

"Oh, I'm ashamed to hear it." Mitsuhide was not just being modest; he was sincerely embarrassed. Fujitaka, of course, was famous for his verses. That day their conversation began with poetry and went on to Japanese classical literature.

"Gracious, the conversation was so interesting, I forgot this was my first visit here Apologizing for his long stay, Fujitaka took his leave.

After Fujitaka had left, Mitsuhide was even more perplexed. Gazing at the lamp, he became lost in thought. Fujitaka called on him two or three times, but the subjects of conversation never departed from poetry or the tea ceremony. But then one day—a day of drizzling rain so dark that lamps were needed inside—at a quiet moment, Fujitaka was more formal than usual.

"Today I have something very serious and secret to discuss," he began.

Mitsuhide, of course, had been waiting for him to break the ice like this, and answered, "If you trust me enough to tell me a secret, I certainly promise to keep it. Please speak freely, on any subject."

Fujitaka nodded. "I'm sure that someone as perceptive as you has already quickly guessed why I have been visiting like this. The fact is that those of us in attendance on the shogun came here depending on Lord Asakura as the only provincial lord who would be his ally, and until now we have secretly negotiated and appealed to him a number of times. His final answer, however, has been put off from day to day, and a decision does not seem to be in the offing. In the meantime we have studied the internal administration and affairs of Lord Asakura, and I know now that he does not have the will to fight for the shogun. Those of us who have appealed to him understand that it is futile. However…" Fujitaka spoke as though he were an entirely different man from the ne who had visited before. "Who among all the provincial lords—besides Lord Asakura— is a man upon whom we could rely? Who is the most reliable military leader in the count today? Does such a man exist?"

"He does."

"He does?" Fujitaka's eyes shone.

Mitsuhide calmly wrote a name on the floor with his finger: Oda Nobunaga.

“The lord of Gifu?" Fujitaka caught his breath. Raising his eyes from the floor to Mitsuhide's face, he said nothing for a short while. After that, the two men discussed Nobunaga for a long time. Mitsuhide had been a retainer of the Saito clan, and in serving his former master, Lord Dosan, he had observed the character of Dosan's son-in-law. Thus there was a certain authority in what he said.

A few days later, Mitsuhide met Fujitaka in the mountains behind the temple that had become the shogun's lodging. From him he received a personal letter written by the shogun and addressed to Nobunaga. That night, Mitsuhide quickly left Ichijogadani. Naturally he abandoned both his residence and retainers, expecting never to return. The next day the Asakura clan was in an uproar.

The he cry went up, "Mitsuhide has disappeared!" A punitive force was sent out to bring him back, but he could no longer be found within the boundaries of the province.

Asakura Yoshikage had heard that one of the shogun's followers, Hosokawa Fujitaka, had visited Mitsuhide, and so now Yoshikage turned on the shogun, saying, "Assuredly he's incited Mitsuhide in this matter, and has probably sent him off to another province as a envoy." And Yoshikage drove the shogun from the province.

Fujitaka had guessed this outcome beforehand. Thus, taking it rather as an opportu­nity, he went with his entourage from Echizen to Omi and found shelter with Asai Nagamasa in Odani Castle. There he waited for good news from Mitsuhide.

And this was why Mitsuhide had come to Gifu. Carrying the shogun's letter, he had risked his life many times along the way. Now he had finally completed half of his objective. He had found his way to Mori Yoshinari's residence, and was this very evening quietly seated across from Yoshinari himself, explaining in detail the aim of his mission and asking Yoshinari to act as an intermediary with Nobunaga.

It was the seventh day of the Tenth Month in the ninth year of Eiroku. One might, perhaps, call it a fateful day. Mori had interceded for Mitsuhide, and the details of the situation had reached Nobunaga. This was the day that Mitsuhide entered Gifu Castle and met Nobunaga for the first time. Mitsuhide was thirty-eight, six years older than Nobu­naga.

"I have carefully looked over the letters from Lord Hosokawa and the shogun," Nobunaga said, "and I see that they have requested assistance from me. Unworthy as I am, I will give them whatever strength I can."

Mitsuhide bowed and responded to Nobunaga's words. "Risking my insignificant life for the nation has been a mission far exceeding my own low status." There was nothing false in Mitsuhide's words.

His sincerity impressed Nobunaga, as did his bearing and conduct, his perceptive use of words, his admirable intelligence. The more Nobunaga watched him, the more he was impressed. This man should prove to be of service, he thought. Thus Akechi Mitsuhide came under the wing of the Oda clan. Soon, he was granted a domain in Mino of four thousand kan. Moreover, as the shogun and his followers were now with the Asai clan, Nobunaga sent a number of men under Mitsuhide's command to escort them to Gifu Castle. Nobunaga went to the provincial border himself to greet the shogun, who had been treated as such a troublesome man in the other provinces.

At the castle gate, he took the reins of the shogun's horse and treated him as an hon­ored guest. In truth, Nobunaga was not just holding the reins of the shogun's horse, but taking hold of the reins of the nation. From this moment on, whatever road he took, the storm clouds and winds of the times were in the fist that held those reins so tightly.

The Wandering Shogun

After the shogun and his party had found refuge with Nobunaga, they were lodged at a temple in Gifu. Vain and small-minded as they were, all that the shogun's retainers wanted to do was to display their own authority. They did not realize the extent of the changes occurring among the common people, and as soon as they had settled in, they began to behave in a highhanded, aristocratic manner, and complained to Nobunaga' retainers:

"This food doesn't taste quite right."

"The bedding is much too coarse."

"I know this cramped temple is just a temporary residence, but it reflects poorly on the shogun's dignity."

They went on, "We would like to see the treatment of the shogun improved. For the present, you might select some picturesque spot for the new shogun's palace and begin its construction."

Nobunaga, hearing of their demands, considered these men to be pitiable. Immediately summoning Yoshiaki's retainers, he told them, "I've heard that you wish to have me build a palace for the shogun because his present residence is so cramped."

“Indeed!" their spokesman replied. "His present lodgings are so inconvenient. As the shogun's residence, they lack even basic amenities."

Well, well," Nobunaga answered with some contempt. "Aren't you gentlemen thinking rather slowly? The reason the shogun appealed to me was so that I might drive out Milyoshi and Matsunaga from Kyoto, recover his lost lands, and restore him to his rightful place."

"That's correct."

“Unworthy as I am, I consented to take on this great responsibility. More than that, I think that I should be able to realize the shogun's hopes for him in the very near future. How am I going to have the leisure to build a palace for him? And do you gentlemen re­ally want to give up your hopes of returning to Kyoto to reestablish a national govern­ment? Would you be satisfied to spend your lives quietly in some scenic place in Gifu, and become early recluses in a large palace, with your meals provided by your host?"

Yoshiaki's attendants withdrew without saying another word. Thereafter, they did not complain so much. There was nothing false about Nobunaga's grand words. As summer turned to fall, Nobunaga ordered a general mobilization of Mino and Owari. By the fifth day of the Ninth Month, nearly thirty thousand soldiers were ready to go. By the seventh day, they were already marching out of Gifu for the capital.

At the great feast in the castle the night before the army's departure, Nobunaga had told his officers and men, "The commotion in the country, which is the result of territo­rial disputes among rival lords, is causing endless distress to the people. It is hardly nec­essary to mention that the misery of the entire nation is the anguish of the Emperor. It has been the iron rule of the Oda clan—from the time of my father, Nobuhide, to the present—that the duty of the samurai must be, first and foremost, the protection of the Imperial House. Thus, in our march on the capital at this time, you are not an army act­ing for me, but one that is acting in the name of the Emperor."

Every one of the commanders and men were in high spirits at the proclamation to set out.

For this great enterprise, Tokugawa Ieyasu of Mikawa, having recently bound himself in a military alliance to Nobunaga, also sent a thousand of his own troops. At the depar­ture of the entire army, some voiced criticism.

"The Lord of Mikawa hasn't sent many men. He's sly, just as we've always heard."

Nobunaga shrugged this off with a laugh. "Mikawa is reforming its administration and economy. It has no time for other considerations. For him to send a large number of troops right now would mean great expense. He's going to be frugal even if he is criti­cized, but he's no common commander. I suspect that the troops he sent are his best men."

Just as Nobunaga had expected, the one thousand soldiers from Mikawa under Matsudaira Kanshiro were never outstripped in any battle. Always fighting in the vanguard, they opened the way for their allies, their courage bringing all the more fame to Ieyasu's name.

Every day the weather continued to be beautiful. The thirty thousand troops marched in black lines beneath the clear autumn sky. The column was so long that when the van­guard had reached Kashiwabara, the rear guard was still passing through Tarui and Akasaka. Their banners hid the sky. As they passed the post town of Hirao and entered Takamiya, there was some shouting from up ahead.

"Messengers! There are messengers from the capital!"

Three generals rode out to meet them.

"We wish to have an audience with Lord Nobunaga." They carried with them a letter from Miyoshi Nagayoshi and Matsunaga Hisahide.

When this was related to headquarters, Nobunaga said, "Bring them here."

The messengers were brought in immediately, but Nobunaga sneered at the message of reconciliation in the letter as a trick of the enemy. "Tell them I will give them my answer when I reach the capital."

As the sun rose on the eleventh, the vanguard crossed the Aichi River. The following morning Nobunaga moved toward the Sasaki strongholds of Kannonji and Mitsukuri. Kannonji Castle was held by Sasaki Jotei. Jotei's son, Sasaki Rokkaku, prepared Mitsukuri Castle for a siege. The Sasaki clan of Omi were allied with Miyoshi and Matsunaga, and when Yoshiaki had sought shelter with them during his flight, they had tried to murder him.

Omi was a strategic area along Lake Biwa on the road to the south. And here the Sasaki waited, boasting that he would destroy Nobunaga just as Nobunaga had annihilated Imagawa Yoshimoto, in a single blow. Sasaki Rokkaku left Mitsukuri Castle, joined forces with his father at Kannonji, and distributed his troops among the eighteen fortresses in Omi.

Shading his eyes with his hand, Nobunaga looked down from high ground and laughed. "This is a wonderful enemy line, isn't it? Just like in a classic treatise."

He ordered Sakuma Nobumori and Niwa Nagahide to take Mitsukuri Castle, placing the Mikawa troops in the vanguard. Then he said, "As I told you the night before we left, this march on the capital is not a personal vendetta; I want it understood by every soldier in the army that we are fighting for the Emperor. Do not kill those who flee. Do not burn the people's homes. And, as far as possible, do not trample over the fields where crops have not yet been harvested."

The waters of Lake Biwa were still invisible through the morning mist. Darkly piercing that mist, thirty thousand men began to move. When Nobunaga saw the flare that signaled the attack on Mitsukuri Castle by Niwa Nagahide's and Sakuma Nobumori’s troops, he ordered, "Move the headquarters to Wada Castle."

Wada Castle was an enemy stronghold, so Nobunaga's order meant to attack and take the castle. He said it, though, as if he were ordering his men to move into an unoccupied position.

"Nobunaga himself is coming to attack!" the commanding general of Wada Castle shouted in response to the lookouts on the watchtower. Striking the hilt of his sword,  he harangued the garrison: "This is heaven-sent! Both Kannonji and Mitsukuri Castle would have been able to hold for at least a month, and during that time the Matsunaga and Miyoshi forces and their allies to the north of the lake would have cut off Nobunaa’s path of retreat. But Nobunaga has hastened his own death by attacking this castle.  A wonderful opportunity indeed! Do not let this piece of martial luck escape. Take Nobunaga's head!"

The entire army screamed its assent. They were confident that the iron walls of the Sasaki clan could hold out for a month, even though Nobunaga commanded an army of thirty thousand men and had many able generals. The powerful provinces surrounding them also believed this. But Wada Castle fell in half a day. After a battle lasting a little over four hours, the defenders were routed, and fled into the mountains and to the shores of the lake.

"Do not pursue them!" Nobunaga ordered from atop Mount Wada, and the banners erected there so quickly could clearly be seen under the noonday sun. Covered with blood and mud, the men gradually collected under the banners of their own generals. Then, raising a shout of victory, they ate their noonday rations. A number of messages contin­ued to come in from the direction of Mitsukuri. The Tokugawa forces from Mikawa, which had been positioned as the vanguard for Niwa and Nobumori, were just now fight­ing courageously, bathed in blood. Moment by moment, messages of success collected in Nobunaga's hand.

The report of Mitsukuri's fall reached Nobunaga before the sun had set. As evening neared, black smoke rose from the direction of the castle at Kannonji. Hideyoshi's forces were already pressing in. The command for an all-out attack was given. Nobunaga moved his camp, and the entire force of Mitsukuri and its allies were pushed back to Kannonji Castle. By the time evening fell, the first men had breached the walls of the enemy castles.

Stars and sparks filled the clear autumn night sky. The attacking forces surged in. Viclory songs were raised, and to those allied with the Sasaki, they must have sounded like the heartless voice of the autumn wind. No one had expected that this stronghold would fall in but a single day. The fortress at Mount Wada and the eighteen strategic points had been no defense at all against these billowing waves of attackers.

The entire Sasaki clan—from women and children to its leaders, Rokkaku and Jotei—stumbled and fought through the darkness, fleeing from the flames of their castles to the fortress at Ishibe.

"Let the fugitives flee as they will; there will be enemies still ahead of us tomorrow." Nobunaga spared not only their lives, but also ignored the vast amount of treasure they carried with them. It was not Nobunaga's style to tarry along the way. His mind was already in Kyoto, the center of the field. The castle at Kannonji stopped burning at the keep. As soon as Nobunaga entered what was left of it, he showed his appreciation to his troops, saying, "The horses and men should be given a good rest."

He himself, however, did not rest much. That night he slept in his armor, and as morning broke, he gathered his senior retainers for a conference. Again he commanded decrees to be posted throughout the province, and immediately sent Fuwa Kawachi off with the command to bring Yoshiaki from Gifu to Moriyama.

Yesterday he had fought at the head of an army; today he was taking the reins of the administration. This was Nobunaga. Temporarily giving four of his generals responsibilities as administrators and magistrates in the port city of Otsu, two days later he crossed Lake Biwa, nearly forgetting to eat as he issued order after order.

It was the twelfth of the month when Nobunaga struck into Omi and attacked Kannonji and Mitsukuri. Then, by the twenty-fifth, Nobunaga's army had gone from the aftermath of battle to setting up notices of the new laws for the province. One road to supremacy, to the center of the field! With that, the warships from the east shore of Lake Biwa were lined up, and they sailed for Omi. Everything from the preparation of the ships to the loading of the rations for the soldiers and feed for their horses involved the cooperation of the common people. Certainly they crouched in fear of Nobunaga's mili­ary strength. But more than that, the fact that the common people of Omi united in support of him was due to their approval of his style of government, which they trusted as reliable.

Nobunaga was the only man who had rescued the hearts of the common people from the flames of war and who had committed himself to them publicly. When they asked themselves what was to become of them, he reassured them. In such situations, there is no time to establish a detailed political policy. Nobunaga's secret was nothing more than to do things swiftly and decisively. What the common people clearly wanted in this country at civil war was not a talented administrator or a great sage. The world was in chaos. If Nobunaga was able to control it, they would accept a certain amount of hardship.

The wind on the lake reminded one that it was autumn, and the water drew beautiful long patterns in the wake of the myriad boats. On the twenty-fifth, Yoshiaki's boat crossed the waters of the lake from Moriyama and landed near Mii Temple.

Nobunaga, who had already landed, expected an attack by Miyoshi and Matsunaga, but it did not come.

He greeted Yoshiaki at the temple, saying, "It's the same as if we've already entered the capital."

On the twenty-eighth, Nobunaga at last pushed his troops toward Kyoto. When they reached Awataguchi, the army stopped. Hideyoshi, who was at Nobunaga's side, galloped forward at the same time that Akechi Mitsuhide was hurrying back from the van.

"What is it?"

"Imperial messengers."

Nobunaga, too, was surprised, and hurriedly dismounted. The two messengers arrived with a letter from the Emperor.

Bowing low, Nobunaga responded reverently, "As a provincial warrior, I have no other abilities than taking up the weapons of war. Since my father's time, we have long lamented the grievous condition of the Imperial Palace and the uneasiness in the Emperor's heart. Today, however, I have come to the capital from a far corner of the country to guard His Imperial Majesty. No other responsibility would be a greater honor for a samurai, or a greater joy for my clan."

Thirty thousand soldiers silently and solemnly swore an oath with Nobunaga that they would obey the Emperor's wishes.

Nobunaga made his camp at Tofuku Temple. On the same day, proclamations were set up throughout the capital. The disposition of the police patrols came first. The day watch was given to Sugaya Kuemon, and the night watch to Hideyoshi.

One of the soldiers from the Oda army was out drinking, and a victorious soldier will easily become arrogant. Drunk and having eaten his fill, he tossed down a few coins that amounted to less than half of what he owed, and walked out, saying, "That should do."

The proprietor ran out after him, yelling, and when he tried to grab the soldier, the man struck him and then swaggered away. Midway through his rounds, Hideyoshi witnessed the incident and immediately ordered the man's arrest. When he was brought to headquarters, Nobunaga praised the police, stripped the soldier of his armor, and had him bound to a large tree in front of the temple gate. The nature of the offense was then signposted, and Nobunaga ordered the man to be exposed for seven days and then beheaded. Every day, an immense number of people traveled back and forth in front of the temple gate. Many of them were merchants and nobles, and there were also messen­gers from other temples and shrines, and shopkeepers transporting their goods.

The passersby stopped to read the placard and look at the man bound to the tree. Thus the common people in the capital witnessed both Nobunaga's justice and the sever­ity of his laws. They saw that the law posted on placards all over town—that the theft of even a single coin would be punished by death—was to be strictly enforced, starting with Nobunaga's own soldiers. No one uttered any discontent.

The phrase "a one-coin cut" became common among the people for the sort of punishment meted out by Nobunaga's rule. It had been twenty-one days since the army's departure from Gifu.

After Nobunaga had settled the situation in the capital and returned to Gifu, he turned away from the matters that had preoccupied him and found that Mikawa was no longer the weak, poverty-stricken province it had once been.

He could not help marveling secretly at Ieyasu's vigilance. The lord of Mikawa had not simply been content to be a guard dog at the back gate of Owari and Mino while his ally, Nobunaga, marched off to the center of the field. Rather than let the opportunity go by, he had expelled the forces of Imagawa Yoshimoto's successor, Ujizane, from the two provinces of Suruga and Totomi. This, of course, was not through his own strength alone. Connected with the Oda clan on the one hand, he was also in collusion with Takeda Shingen of Kai, and he had a pact with the latter to divide and share the two remaining provinces of the Imagawa. Ujizane had been a fool and had given both the Tokugawa and Takeda clans a number of good excuses to attack him.

Even though the country was in chaos, every military commander understood that he could not start a war without some reason, and that if he did, the battle would be lost in the end. Ujizane was operating an administration against which the enemy could take just such a moral stand, and was weak-minded enough to be unable to see what the future held. Everyone knew he was an unworthy successor to Yoshimoto.

The province of Suruga became the possession of the Takeda clan, while Totomi became the Tokugawa clan's domain. On New Year's Day of the thirteenth year of Eiroku, Ieyasu left his son in charge of the castle at Okazaki, and he himself moved to Hamamatsu in Totomi. In the Second Month, a message of congratulations came from Nobunaga:

Last year, I myself mentioned my long-cherished desire and had some small success, but nothing could be more felicitous than adding the fertile land of Totomi to your own domains. Collectively, we have become all the stronger.

In early spring, Ieyasu went to Kyoto in the company of Nobunaga. Of course the purpose of the trip was to enjoy the capital in the springtime and to relax beneath the cherry blossoms, or so it appeared. From a political perspective, however, the rest of the world looked at the two leaders meeting in Kyoto and wondered what it was really about.

But Nobunaga's trip this time was really just a magnificent and leisurely progress. Alone, the two of them would spend the entire day hawking in the fields. At night Nobunaga held banquets and had the popular songs and dances of the villagers performed at their inn. All in all, it looked like nothing more than an outing. On the day Nobu­naga and Ieyasu were to arrive at the capital, Hideyoshi, who was in charge of the de­fense of Kyoto, had gone out as far as Otsu to greet them. Nobunaga had introduced him to Ieyasu.

"Yes, I've known him for a long time. The first time I met him was when I visited Kiyosu, and he was among the samurai stationed at the entrance to greet me. That was a year after the battle of Okehazama, so it was quite a while ago." Ieyasu looked directly at Hideyoshi and smiled. Hideyoshi was surprised at how good the man's memory was. Ie­yasu was now twenty-eight years old. Lord Nobunaga was thirty-six. Hideyoshi was going to be thirty-four. The battle of Okehazama had taken place a good ten years before.

When they had settled down in Kyoto, Nobunaga first went to inspect the repairs being done on the Imperial Palace.

"We anticipate that the Imperial Palace will be finished by next year," the two con­struction overseers informed him.

"Don't be stingy with the expenses," Nobunaga replied. "The Imperial Palace has lain in ruins for years."

Ieyasu heard Nobunaga's comments and said, "I truly envy your position. You have been able to demonstrate your loyalty to the Emperor in actual fact."

"That's so," Nobunaga answered without modesty, and nodded as though he ap­proved of himself.

Thus, Nobunaga not only rebuilt the Imperial Palace, but he also revised the finances of the court. The Emperor was pleased, of course, and Nobunaga's loyalty impressed the people. Seeing that the nobles were at ease and that the lower classes were at peace and in harmony, Nobunaga truly enjoyed the time spent with Ieyasu during the Second Month, viewing the cherry blossoms, and attending tea ceremonies and concerts.

Who would have known that, during that time, his mind was preparing to strike through the next set of difficulties? Nobunaga initiated his actions as new situations developed, and moved ahead with the outlines of his plans and their execution even as he lay sleeping. Suddenly, on the second day of the Fourth Month, all of his generals received summonses to meet at the residence of the shogun.

The large conference room was full.

“This concerns the Asakura clan of Echizen," Nobunaga began, revealing what he had been planning since the Second Month. "Lord Asakura has ignored the numerous re­quests of the shogun and has not offered a single piece of lumber for the construction of the Imperial Palace. Lord Asakura was appointed by the shogun and holds the position of retainer to the Emperor, but he thinks of nothing but the luxury and indolence of his own clan. I would like to investigate this crime myself, and assemble a punitive force of soldiers. What are your opinions?"

Among those under direct control of the shogunate, there were a number of men who had old friendships with the Asakura clan and who supported the clan indirectly; but no one disagreed. And as a large number of men voiced frank approval quite readily, no one spoke under the added pressure of the large group.

To attack the Asakura would mean a campaign to the northern provinces. It was a major undertaking, but the plan was approved in a very short time. On the very same day a proclamation went out that an army would be assembled, and by the twentieth day of that month it had already been mustered at Sakamoto. Added to the troops of Owari and Mino, were eight thousand Mikawa warriors under Tokugawa Ieyasu. A force of close to one hundred thousand men now stretched along the lakeshore at Niodori, in the bright Fourth Month of late spring.

Reviewing the troops, Nobunaga pointed toward the mountain range to the north. "Look! The snow covering the mountains of the northern provinces has melted. We'll have the flowering of spring!" Hideyoshi had been included in this army, and led a con­tingent of troops.

He nodded to himself, thinking, "Well, while Lord Nobunaga was entertaining him­self in the capital with Lord Ieyasu this spring, he was also waiting for the snows to melt in the mountain passes leading to the northern provinces."

But more than that, he considered how Nobunaga's real skill had been in inviting Ie­yasu to the capital. Indirectly he had displayed his own strength and achievements so that Ieyasu would not begrudge the forces he would be sending. This was Nobunaga's skill. Even with the chaos the world is in, it's going to be united by his ability. Hideyoshi be­lieved this was true, and understood more than anyone else that the significance of this battle was in its absolute necessity.

The army advanced from Takashima, passed Kumagawa in Wakasa, and marched toward Tsuruga in Echizen. On and on it went, burning the enemy's fortresses and border posts, crossing mountain after mountain, and attacking Tsuruga within the month.

The Asakura, who had been making light of the enemy troops, were astonished that they were already there. Just half a month earlier, Nobunaga had been reveling in the spring flowers of the capital. The Asakura could not believe, even in their dreams, that they were looking at his banners here in their own province, even if he had been able to make his military preparations so quickly.

The ancient Asakura clan, descended from the imperial line, had risen to prominence for helping the first shogun, and later had been granted the entire province of Echizen.

The clan was the strongest in all the northern provinces; this was acknowledged by itself and others. The Asakura ranked as participants in the shogunate, they were rich in natural resources, and they could depend on great military strength.

When he heard that Nobunaga had already reached Tsuruga, Yoshikage almost chided the man who had informed him. "Don't lose your head. You're probably mis­taken."

The Oda army that fell upon Tsuruga made its base camp there and sent out battal­ions to attack the castles at Kanegasaki and Tezutsugamine.

"Where's Mitsuhide?" Nobunaga asked.

"General Mitsuhide is in command of the vanguard," a retainer replied.

"Call him back!" Nobunaga ordered.

"What is it, my lord?" Mitsuhide asked, hurrying back from the front lines.

"You lived in Echizen for a long time, so you should be especially familiar with the geography between this area and the Asakura's main castle at Ichijogadani. Why are you fighting out there for some tiny achievement with the vanguard, without devising some greater strategy?" Nobunaga inquired.

"I'm sorry." Mitsuhide bowed as though Nobunaga had somehow struck him deep inside. "If you will give me your order, I will draw you a map and submit it for you observation."

"Well then, I'll give you a formal order. The maps I have at hand are rather crude, and there seem to be places where they might be totally incorrect. Check them with the maps you have, correct them, and give them back to me."

In Mitsuhide's possession were finely detailed maps with which Nobunaga's could not compare. Mitsuhide withdrew and then returned with his own maps, which he presented to Nobunaga.

"I think you should look over the lay of the land. And I think I'd better make you an officer on my field staff." After that, Nobunaga would not let Mitsuhide stray far fron headquarters.

Tezutsugamine, the castle defended by Hitta Ukon, soon surrendered. But the castle at Kanegasaki was not so quick to fall. In this latter castle, Asakura Kagetsune, a twenty-six-year-old general, stood his ground. When he had been a monk in his youth, there were those who said it would be a pity for a warrior of his physique and disposition to enter holy orders. Thus he was forced back into secular life and quickly put in charge of a castle, distinguishing himself even within the Asakura clan. Surrounded by more than forty thousand troops commanded by such veteran generals as Sakuma Nobumori, Ikeda Shonyu, and Mori Yoshinari, Kagetsune looked down from the castle watchtower with an unperturbed expression, and broke into a smile.

"How ostentatious."

Yoshinari, Nobumori, and Shonyu staged a general attack, staining the walls with blood and holding fast like ants for the entire day. When they counted the bodies at the end of the day, the enemy had lost over three hundred men, but the corpses of their own forces exceeded eight hundred. That night, however, the castle at Kanegasaki stood majestic and indomitable under a huge summer moon.

"This castle is not going to fall. And even if it does, it will not be a victory for us,” Hideyoshi told Nobunaga that evening.

Nobunaga looked a bit impatient. "Why won't it be a victory for us if the castle falls?” There was, on such occasions, no reason for Nobunaga to be in a good mood.

"With the fall of this one castle, Echizen will not necessarily be overthrown. With the capture of this one castle, my lord, your military power will not necessarily increase."

Nobunaga interrupted him, asking, "But how can we advance without overcoming Kanegasaki?"

Hideyoshi suddenly turned to the side. Ieyasu had come in and was just standing there. Seeing Ieyasu, Hideyoshi hurriedly withdrew with a bow. He then brought in some matting and offered the lord of Mikawa a seat next to Nobunaga.

“Am I intruding?" Ieyasu asked, and then sat down on the seat Hideyoshi had provided. To Hideyoshi, however, he gave not the slightest recognition. "It seems as though you were in the middle of some discussion."

"No." Motioning toward Hideyoshi with his chin and softening his mood a bit, Nobunaga explained to Ieyasu exactly what they had been discussing.

Ieyasu nodded and stared fixedly at Hideyoshi. Ieyasu was eight years younger than Nobunaga, but to Hideyoshi it seemed the other way around. As Ieyasu looked at him, Hideyoshi could not imagine that his manner and expression were those of a man in his twenties.

"I agree with what Hideyoshi has said. To waste further time and injure more men with this one castle is not a sound policy."

"Do you think we should call off the attack and press on to the enemy's main stronghold?"

"First let's hear what Hideyoshi has to say. It seems he has something in mind."

"Hideyoshi."

"Yes, my lord."

"Tell us your plan."

"I don't have a plan."

"What?" Nobunaga was not the only one whose eyes showed surprise. The expression Ieyasu's face was a little perplexed, too.

"There are three thousand soldiers inside that castle, and its walls are hardened with their will to take on an army of ten thousand men and fight to the death. Even though it's small, there's no reason why the castle should fall easily. I doubt that it would be shaken even if we did have a plan. Those soldiers are men, too, so I imagine they must be susceptible to true human emotions and sincerity…."

"You're starting up again, eh?" Nobunaga said. He did not want Hideyoshi's tongue to wag any more than it had already. Ieyasu was his most powerful ally, and he treated him with extreme courtesy; but the man was, after all, lord of the two provinces of Mikawa and Totomi, and was not a member of the Oda clan's inner circle. More than that, Nobunaga was well enough attuned to Hideyoshi's mind that he didn't have to hear his thoughts in detail in order to trust him.

"Fine. That's fine," Nobunaga said. "I give you the authority for whatever you have in mind. Go ahead and carry it through."

"Thank you, my lord." Hideyoshi withdrew as though the matter were of no particular consequence. But that night he entered the enemy castle alone and met with its commander, Asakura Kagetsune. Hideyoshi opened his heart and spoke to the young master of this castle.

"You come from a samurai family, too, so you're probably looking at the end result of this battle. Further resistance will only result in the deaths of valuable soldiers. I, in particular, do not want to see you die a useless death. Rather than that, why don't you open up the castle and retreat properly, join forces with Lord Yoshikage, and meet us again, on a different battlefield? I will personally guarantee the security of all the treasures, weapons, and women and children inside the castle, and send them to you without trouble."

"Changing the field of battle and meeting you on another day would be interesting, Kagetsune replied, and went to prepare the retreat. With the full courtesy of a samurai, Hideyoshi allowed the retreating enemy all accommodations, and saw them off to a league beyond the castle.

It took a day and a half to settle the matter of Kanegasaki, but when Hideyoshi informed Nobunaga of what he had done, his lord's only response was, "Is that so?" and he added no great praise. The look on Nobunaga's face, however, indicated that he seemed to be thinking, You did too well—there is a limit to meritorious deeds. But Hideyoshi's great achievement could hardly be denied, regardless of who judged the matter.

If Nobunaga had praised him to the skies, however, it would have created a situation in which the generals Shonyu, Nobumori, and Yoshinari would have been too ashamed to face their lord again. After all, they had sent eight hundred soldiers to their deaths and had been unable to defeat the enemy even with an overwhelming number of men. Hideyoshi was even more sensitive to the feelings of these generals, and when he made his report, he did not credit his own idea as the source of his efforts. He simply said that he had been following Nobunaga's orders.

"It was my intention to carry out everything according to orders. I hope you'll over­look my unskillful performance and the suddenness and secrecy of it all." Thus apologiz­ing, he withdrew.

Ieyasu happened to be with the other generals at Nobunaga's side at this time. Grunt­ing to himself, he watched Hideyoshi depart. From this point on, he realized that there was a formidable man not much older than he who had been born into this period as well. Meanwhile, having abandoned Kanegasaki and now in full retreat, Asakura Kagetsune hurried along, thinking that he would join his forces with those at the main castle at Ichijogadani, and measure his strength against Nobunaga's army once again, at another place. Still on the way, he met the twenty thousand troops that Asakura Yoshikage had sent running to relieve Kanegasaki.

"Now I've done it!" Kagetsune said, regretting that he had followed the counsel of the enemy, but it was too late.

"Why did you leave the castle without a fight?" Yoshikage shouted, enraged, but he was obliged to unite the two armies and return to Ichijogadani.

Nobunaga's men pushed on as far as Kinome Pass. If he could break through that strategic position, the very headquarters of the Asakura clan would be right before him. But an urgent message shocked the invading Oda troops.

A dispatch informed them that Asai Nagamasa of Omi, whose clan had been allied with the Asakura for several generations, had taken his army from north of Lake Biwa and cut off Nobunaga's retreat. Additionally, Sasaki Rokkaku, who had already tasted de­feat at the hands of Nobunaga, was acting in concert with the Asai and coming from the mountainous area of Koga. One after another, they had led their armies to strike at No­bunaga's flank.

The enemy was now before and behind the invading army. Perhaps because of this change of events, the morale of the Asakura forces was high, and they were ready to sally from Ichijogadani and mount a furious counterattack.

"We've entered the jaws of death," Nobunaga said. He realized it was as if they had been looking for their own graves in enemy territory. What he suddenly feared was not just that Sasaki Rokkaku and Asai Nagamasa obstructed his retreat; what Nobunaga feared to the very marrow of his bones was the likelihood that the warrior-monks of the Honganji, whose fortress was in this area, would raise a war cry against the invader and unfold the banner opposing him. The weather had suddenly changed, and the invading army was a boat heading into the storm.

But where was an opening large enough for the retreat of ten thousand soldiers? Strategists warn that, by nature, an advance is easy and a retreat difficult. If a general makes one mistake, he may suffer the misfortune of the annihilation of his entire army.

"Please allow me to take charge of the rear guard. Then my lord can take the shortcut through Kuchikidani, unencumbered by too many men, and under cover of night, slip out of this land of death. By dawn the rest of the troops could retreat directly toward the capital," Hideyoshi offered.

With each moment that passed, the danger became greater. That evening, accompa­nied by a few retainers and a force of only three hundred men, Nobunaga followed the pathless valleys and ravines and rode all night toward Kuchikidani. They were attacked countless times by the warrior-monks of the Ikko sect and local bandits, and for two days and nights they went without food, drink, or sleep. They finally reached Kyoto on the evening of the fourth day, but by that time, many of them were so tired that they were al­most invalids. But they were the lucky ones. The one more to be pitied was the man who had taken responsibility for the rear guard on his own and, after the main army had made its escape, stayed behind with a tiny force in the lone fortress of Kanegasaki.

This was Hideyoshi. The other generals, who until now had envied his successes and secredy called him a quibbler and an upstart, now parted from him with heartfelt praise, calling him "the pillar of the Oda clan" and "a true warrior," and bringing firearms, gunpowder, and provisions to his camp as they left. As they laid the supplies down and left, it was as if they were leaving wreaths at a grave.

Then, from dawn until midday on the morning after Nobunaga's night escape, the nine thousand troops under Katsuie, Nobumori, and Shonyu made good their escape. When the Asakura forces saw this and pursued to attack them, Hideyoshi struck their flank and threatened them from behind. And when the Oda force had finally been able to slip away from disaster, Hideyoshi and his troops shut themselves up in the castle at Kanegasaki, vowing, "This is where we'll leave this world."

Demonstrating their will to die fighting, they barred the castle gate tightly, eating what there was to eat, sleeping whenever there was time to sleep, and said their farewells to the world. The commander of the attacking Asakura forces was the brave general Keya Shichizaemon. Rather than injure many of his own men by dashing against troops who were ready to die, he besieged the fortress, cutting off Hideyoshi's retreat.

"Night attack!" When this warning was given in the middle of the second night, all the preparations made beforehand were deployed without the least confusion. Keya’s army rushed out against the enemy moving in the dark and completely routed Hideyoshi's small force, which fled quickly back into the castle.

"The enemy is resigned to die, and is shouting its own death cry! Take this opportu­nity, and we'll capture the castle by dawn!" Keya ordered. They rushed to the edge of the moat, assembled rafts, and crossed the water. In no time at all, thousands of soldiers took possession of the stone walls.

Then, just as Shichizaemon had vowed, Kanegasaki fell with the coming of the dawn. But what did his forces find? Not one of Hideyoshi's men was in the castie. Their banners were standing. Smoke already curled toward the sky. Horses were neighing. Hideyoshi, however, was not there. The attack the night before had not been an attack at all.

Led by Hideyoshi, his small army had only pretended to flee back into the castle, while in fact it searched like the wind for a way of escape from certain death. By dawn, Hideyoshi's men were already at the base of the mountains that wound their way along the provincial border, making good their escape.

Keya Shichizaemon and his troops did not, of course, watch them go in mute amazement. "Make ready for pursuit!" he ordered. "After them!"

Hideyoshi's troops took the path of retreat deep into the mountains, continuing their flight throughout the night without pausing to eat or drink.

"We're not out of the tiger's den yet!" Hideyoshi warned them. "Don't slacken up. Don't rest. Don't think about thirst. Just keep your will to live!" On they marched to Hideyoshi's admonishments. As expected, Keya began to catch up with them. When he heard the enemy's battle cries behind them, Hideyoshi first ordered a short rest and then spoke to his soldiers.

"Don't be alarmed. Our enemies are fools. They're raising their war cries as they climb up the valley while we're on high ground. We're all tired, but the enemy is chasing after us in anger, and many of them are going to be exhausted. When they're in range, shower them with rocks and stones, and thrust your spears at them."

His men were tired, but they regained their confidence at his reason and clarity.

"Come and get us!" they yelled as they stood ready for the attack. Keya's chastisement of Hideyoshi's troops was returned to him in a miserable defeat. Innumerable corpses piled up beneath the rocks and spears.

"Retreat!" The voices that screamed the order finally grew hoarse in the valleys into which the Asakura retreated.

"Now's our chance! Pull back! Retreat!"

Hideyoshi seemed almost to mimic the enemy, and his men turned and fled toward the southern lowlands. Leading his surviving soldiers, Keya once again went in pursuit. Keya's men were truly implacable, and though the remaining strength of the punitive force had already weakened considerably, the warrior-monks of the Honganji joined the attack, blocking the road as Hideyoshi's men tried to pass through the mountains leading down into Omi. When the men tried to turn from the road, arrows and stones flew from the swamps and forests to the right and left, accompanied by screams of "Don't let them pass!" Even Hideyoshi started to think that his time had come. But now was the moment to summon the will to live and to resist the temptation to succumb.

'Let heaven decide whether our luck is good or bad and whether we live or die! Run down through the marsh to the west. Escape along the mountain streams. Their waters flow into Lake Biwa. Run as fast as the water itself. Your escape from death is speed!" He did not tell them to fight. This was the Hideyoshi who knew so well how to employ men, but even he did not think of ordering his starving troops, who had gone two days and two nights without sleep or rest, to repel an ambush by unknown numbers of warrior-monks. All he wanted was to help every last soldier in his pitiful force to return to the capital. And there was nothing stronger than the will to live.

Under Hideyoshi's orders, the tired and hungry troops struck their way into the marsh in a downhill rush of almost uncanny force. It was a reckless move that could have been called neither strategy nor even self-abandonment, for the warrior-monks hidden in the depths of the forest were like mosquitoes. Still, on they ran, right through the enemy. And this, in fact, opened up a fissure in the enemy ranks, and they were able to rend the carefully laid ambush into pieces. As they ran, order turned to chaos, and all the men scrambled to the south, following the mountain streams.

"Lake Biwa!"

"We're saved!" They shouted for joy.

The following day they entered Kyoto.

When Nobunaga saw them, he exclaimed, "Thank heaven you've come back alive. You're like gods. You are truly like gods."

4 FIRST YEAR OF GENKI1570

Characters and Places

Asai Nagamasa, lord of Omi

and Nobunaga's brother-in-law

Asakura Yoshikage, lord of Echizen

Amakasu Sanpei, ninja of the Takeda clan

Takeda Shingen, lord of Kai

Kaisen, zen monk and Shingen's adviser

Sakuma Nobumori, senior Oda retainer

Takei Sekian, senior Oda retainer

Mori Ranmaru, Nobunaga's page

Fujikage Mikawa, senior Asai retainer

Oichi, Asai Nagamasa's wife and Nobunaga's sister

Chacha, Oichi and Nagamasa's eldest daughter

Honganji, headquarters of the

warrior-monks of the Ikko sect

Mount Hiei, mountain east of Kyoto

and headquarters of the Tendai sect

Kai, province of the Takeda clan

Hamamatsu, Tokugawa Ieyasu's castle

Nijo, shogun's palace in Kyoto

Omi, province of the Asai clan

Odani, main castle of the Asai clan

Echizen, province of the Asakura clan

Enemy of the Buddha

On the first night after their return to Kyoto, the officers and men of the rear guard, who had narrowly escaped with their lives, could only think of one thing: sleep.

After reporting to Nobunaga, Hideyoshi wandered off in a daze.

Sleep. Sleep.

The following morning he opened his eyes for just a moment, and then went straight back to sleep. Around noon he was awakened by a servant and ate some rice gruel, but in a state between waking and dreaming, he only knew that it tasted good.

"Are you going back to sleep?" the servant asked in amazement.

Hideyoshi finally woke up two days later in the evening, feeling totally disoriented. "What day is it?"

"It's the second," the samurai on duty answered.

The second, he thought as he wearily dragged himself out of the room. Then Lord Nobunaga must have recovered, too.

Nobunaga had rebuilt the Imperial Palace and constructed a new residence for the shogun, but he himself did not have a mansion in the capital. Whenever he came to Kyoto, he would stay in a temple, and his retainers would lodge in neighboring branch temples.

Hideyoshi left the temple in which he was billeted, and looked up at the stars for the first time in several days. It's almost summer, he thought. And then he realized, I'm still alive! He felt extraordinarily happy. Although it was late at night, he asked for an audience with Nobunaga. He was shown in immediately, as though Nobunaga had been waiting for him.

“Hideyoshi, you must be pleased about something," Nobunaga said. "You've got an extraordinary smile on your face."

"How could I not be pleased?" he answered. "Before this, I wasn't aware of what a blessed thing life is. But having escaped from near death, I realize that I don't need anything more than life. Just by looking at this lamp or at your face, my lord, I know that I'm alive, and that I am blessed far more than I deserve. But how are you feeling, my lord?"

"I can't help feeling disappointed. This is the first time I've ever felt the shame and bitterness of defeat."

"Has anyone ever accomplished great things without experiencing defeat?"

"Well, can you see that on my face, too? The horse's belly only has to be whipped once. Hideyoshi, get yourself ready for a trip."

"A trip?"

"We're going back to Gifu." Just when Hideyoshi was congratulating himself for being one step ahead of Nobunaga, his lord struck out into the lead. There were several good reasons for him to get back to Gifu as quickly as possible.

Although Nobunaga was reputed to be a dreamer, he was also known to be a strong-willed man of action. That night Nobunaga, Hideyoshi, and an escort of less than three hundred men left the capital with the swiftness of a sudden storm. But even with such speed, their departure could not be kept secret.

The short night had not yet dawned when the group reached Otsu. Splitting the predawn darkness, the report of a gun echoed in the mountains. The horses reared in frenzy. Retainers galloped forward, anxious for Nobunaga, while at the same time they looked for the sniper.

Nobunaga appeared not to have noticed the shot; in fact he had already galloped ahead more than fifty yards. From that distance he turned and shouted, "Let him be!"

Because Nobunaga was alone, far ahead of the others, they left the would-be assassin behind. When Hideyoshi and the other generals overtook Nobunaga and asked if he had been wounded, Nobunaga slowed his horse and held up his sleeve, showing a small hole through the loose cloth. His only comment was, "Our fate is decreed by heaven."

It was later discovered that the man who had shot at Nobunaga was a warrior-monk famous for his marksmanship.

"Our fate is decreed by heaven," Nobunaga had said, but this did not mean he waited passively for heaven's will. He knew how rival warlords envied him. The world had not thought much of him when he had spread his wings over Owari and Mino from his small domain, which covered no more than two districts of Owari. But now that he had taken center stage and was giving orders from Kyoto, the powerful provincial clans were suddenly ill at ease. Clans with whom he had no quarrel whatsoever—the Otomo and Shimazu of Kyushu, the Mori of the western provinces, the Chosokabe of Shikoku, and even the Uesugi and Date in the far north—all looked upon his successes with hostility.

But the real danger was from his own in-laws. It was clear that Takeda Shingen of Kai was no longer to be trusted; neither could he be negligent about the Hojo; and Asai Nagamasa of Odani, who had married his sister Oichi, was living proof of the weakness of political alliances based on marriage. When Nobunaga had invaded the north, his main enemy—the man who had suddenly allied himself with the Asakura and threatened his retreat—was none other than this Asai Nagamasa, proving again that the ambitions of men cannot be trammeled by a woman's hair.

Everywhere he looked, there were enemies. The remnants of the Miyoshi and Matsunaga clans were still troublesome adversaries lying in ambush, and the warrior-monks of the Honganji were fanning the flames of rebellion against him everywhere. It seemed that, as he took power, the whole country was turning against him, so it was prudent for him to return quickly to Gifu. If he had idled in Kyoto for another month, there might have been no castle or clan to return to, but he reached Gifu Castle without incident.

"Guard! Guard!" The short night had not yet ended, but Nobunaga was calling from his bedroom. It was about the time the cuckoo's song could be heard over Inabayama, not an unusual time for Nobunaga to wake up and unexpectedly give orders. His night watch was used to it, but it seemed that whenever they relaxed their guard a little, Nobunaga would take them by surprise.

"Yes, my lord?" This time, the guard was quick.

"Call a war council. Tell Nobumori to summon the general staff immediately," Nobunaga said on his way out of his bedroom.

The pages and attendants ran after him. They were still half asleep and could hardly tell whether it was midnight or dawn. Certainly it was still dark, and the stars shone brightly in the night sky.

"I'm going to light the lamps," said an attendant. "Please wait just a moment, my lord."

But Nobunaga had already stripped. He stepped into the bathroom and began to pour water over himself and wash.

In the outer citadel, the confusion was even worse. Men like Nobumori, Tadatsugu, and Hideyoshi were in the castle, but many of the other generals had been staying in the castle town. As messengers were sent to summon them, the hall was cleaned and the lamps lit.

At length the generals were all gathered for the war council. The white lamplight shone on Nobunaga's face. He had decided to ride out at dawn against Asai Nagamasa of Odani. Although this meeting was meant to be a war council, its purpose was not the air­ing of different opinions or discussion. Nobunaga simply wanted to hear if anyone had any suggestions as to tactics.

When it was clear just how determined Nobunaga was, a deathly silence fell over the assembled generals. It was as though something had struck them deep in their hearts. Nobunaga's relationship with Nagamasa, they all knew, was more than that of a political ally. Nobunaga was truly fond of his brother-in-law, and he had invited him to Kyoto and per­sonally shown him the sights.

If Nobunaga had not told Nagamasa of his attack on the Asakura clan, it was because he knew that the Asai and Asakura were bound by an alliance much older than the Asai clan's ties with the Oda. Thinking of his brother-in-law's delicate position, he tried his best to keep him neutral.

However, once Nagamasa knew that Nobunaga's army was deep in enemy territory, Nagamasa had betrayed Nobunaga, cut off his retreat, and forced him into an inevitable defeat.

Nobunaga had been thinking about his brother-in-law's punishment ever since his return to Kyoto. A secret report had been handed to Nobunaga in the dead of night. It in­formed him that Sasaki Rokkaku had fomented a peasant uprising with the support of Kannonji Castle and the warrior-monks. Taking advantage of the chaos and acting in concert with the Asai, Rokkaku was aiming to crush Nobunaga with a single blow.

When the war council had ended, Nobunaga went into the garden with his generals and pointed to the sky. In the distance the flames of the insurrection turned the sky a brilliant red.

On the following day, the twentieth, Nobunaga led his army into Omi. He crushed the warrior-monks and broke through the defenses of Asai Nagamasa and Sasaki Rokkaku. Nobunaga's army moved with the speed of a storm sweeping the clouds from the plain, and struck with the suddenness of lightning.

On the twenty-first, the Oda were pressing in on the main castle of the Asai at Odani. They had already laid siege to Yokoyama Castle, a branch castle of Odani. For the enemy, it was a complete rout. They had had no time to prepare themselves, and their resistance crumbled, giving them no time to set up new positions.

The Ane River was only a few feet deep, so, although it was quite broad, a man could ford it on foot. Its clear waters, which flowed from the mountains of eastern Asai, were, however, so cold that they cut into the body even in summer.

It was just before dawn. Nobunaga, leading an army of twenty-three thousand men, with a further six thousand Tokugawa troops, deployed his men along the east riverbank.

From about midnight on the previous day, the combined forces of the Asai and the Asakura —numbering about eighteen thousand—had gradually moved in from Mount Oyose. Hiding behind the houses along the west bank of the river, they waited for the right moment to attack. The night was still dark, and only the sound of the water could be heard.

"Yasumasa," Ieyasu called one of his commanders, "the enemy is approaching the riverbank thick and fast."

"It's difficult to see anything through this mist, but I can hear the horses neighing in the distance."

"Any news from downstream?"

"Nothing so far."

"Which side is heaven going to bless? Half a day should see the turning point."

"Half a day? I wonder if it will take that long."

"Don't underestimate them," Ieyasu said as he walked into the woods at the river's edge. Here were his own silent troops, the flower of Nobunaga's army. The atmosphere in the forest was one of total desolation. The soldiers had spread out into a firing line, crouching in the undergrowth. The spearmen grasped their weapons and looked out over the river, where still nothing stirred.

Would it be life or death today?

The eyes of the soldiers shone. Untouched by life or death, they silently imagined the outcome of the battle. Not one looked as if he had confidence that he would see the sky again that evening.

Accompanied by Yasumasa, Ieyasu walked along the line, his clothes making only a slight rustling noise. No light shone, except for the smoldering fuse cords of the muskets. A man sneezed—perhaps a soldier with a cold, whose nose was itchy from the smoke of the fuses. Still, it made the other soldiers tense.

The surface of the water began to turn white, and a line of red clouds silhouetted the branches of the trees on Mount Ibuki.

"The enemy!" a man shouted.

The officers around Ieyasu immediately signaled the gunners to hold their fire. On the other bank just a little downstream, a mixed corps of mounted samurai and foot sol­diers, numbering perhaps twelve or thirteen hundred, was fording the river at a diagonal. Kicking up a white spray with their feet, they looked like a white gale crossing the river.

The formidable vanguard of the Asai was ignoring the Oda vanguard and even the second and third lines of defense, and was preparing to strike at the center of the Oda camp.

Ieyasu's men swallowed hard and exclaimed all at once, "Isono Tamba!"

"Tamba's regiment!"

The famous Isono Tamba, the pride of the Asai clan, was a worthy opponent. His crested banners could be seen fluttering through the splashes and spray.

Gunfire!

Was it covering fire for the enemy, or the rifles of their own troops? No, the firing had begun from both banks at the same moment. Echoing over the water, the noise was al­most deafening. The clouds began to part, and the cloudless summer sky displayed its hue. Just then the second Oda line, under Sakai Tadatsugu, and Ikeda Shonyu's third line suddenly struck out into the river.

"Don't let the enemy put one foot on our side! Don't let a single one of them return to their own!" shouted the officers.

The Sakai corps attacked the enemy's flank. In an instant, hand-to-hand fighting broke out in the middle of the river. Spear clashed against spear, sword rang against sword. Men grappled and tumbled from horses, and the waters of the river ran with blood.

Tamba's regiment of crack troops pushed Sakai's second line back. Shouting, "We have been shamed!" so loudly that he could be heard on both sides of the river, Sakai's son, Kyuzo, dashed into the middle of the fight. He achieved a glorious death in battle, with more than one hundred of his men.

With unstoppable force, Tamba's soldiers broke through the third Oda line. Ikeda's spearmen readied their spears and tried to break the enemy onslaught, but they could do nothing.

Now it was Hideyoshi's turn to be amazed. He muttered to Hanbei, "Have you ever seen such intimidating men?" But even Hanbei had no tactics to deal with this attack. This was not the only reason for Hideyoshi's defeat. Within his line were a great number men who had surrendered at enemy castles. These new "allies" had been put under Hideyoshi's command, but they had once received their stipends from the Asai and Asakura. Quite naturally, their spears were rarely accurate, and when they were ordered to charge the enemy, they were more likely to get in the way of Hideyoshi's own men.

Thus Hideyoshi's line was defeated, and the Oda's fifth and sixth lines were also soundly beaten. In all, Tamba routed eleven of the thirteen Oda lines. At this point the Tokugawa forces upstream crossed the river, overrunning the enemy on the opposite bank, and gradually they made their way downstream. Looking back, however, they saw that Tamba's soldiers were already pressing close on Nobunaga's headquarters.

With the yell, "Attack their flank!" the Tokugawa soldiers leaped back into the river. Tamba's soldiers thought these men were their own allies entering the river from the west bank, even when they drew near. With Kazumasa in the lead, the Tokugawa samurai cut into Isono Tamba's regiment.

Suddenly aware of the enemy, Tamba yelled himself hoarse, ordering his men to fall back. A warrior, brandishing a dripping spear, struck him from the side. Tamba collapsed in a spray of water. Grasping the shaft of the spear that had pierced his side, he attempted to get up, but the Tokugawa warrior had no intention of letting him do so. A sword flashed over Tamba's head and crashed down on his iron helmet. The sword shattered into pieces. Tamba stood up, the water around his feet turning into a bright red pool of blood. Three men surrounded Tamba, stabbing and hacking him to pieces.

"The enemy!" the retainers around Nobunaga shouted. They ran from the head­quarters to the riverbank with their spears ready.

Takenaka Kyusaku, Hanbei's younger brother, was in Hideyoshi's regiment, but in the confusion of battle he had become separated from his unit. Pursuing the enemy, he was now close to Nobunaga's headquarters.

What? he thought in amazement. The enemy's here already? As he looked around, he spotted a samurai coming around from the back of the enclosure. The man, whose armor was not that of a common foot soldier, lifted the curtain and looked stealthily inside.

Kyusaku flung himself at the man and grabbed his leg, which was covered by chain mail and armor. The warrior might be one of their own men, and Kyusaku did not want to kill an ally by mistake. The samurai turned without a hint of surprise. He looked like an officer of the Asai army.

"Friend or foe?" Kyusaku asked.

"Foe, of course!" the man yelled, working his spear through his hands and moving in to strike.

"Who are you? Do you have a name worth repeating?"

"I am Maenami Shinpachiro of the Asai. I've come to take Lord Nobunaga's head. You disgusting runt! Who are you?"

"I am Takenaka Kyusaku, a retainer of Kinoshita Hideyoshi. Come and try me!"

"Well, well. Takenaka Hanbei's little brother."

"That's right!" The instant he said this, Kyusaku yanked away Shinpachiro's spear and threw it back at his chest. But before Kyusaku could draw his sword, Shinpachiro grabbed him. Both men fell to the ground, Kyusaku on the bottom. He kicked himself free, but he was once again pinned down beneath his enemy. At that moment he bit on Shinpachiro's finger, making him loosen his grip a little.

Now was his chance! Giving Shinpachiro a shove, Kyusaku was able to free himself at last. In an instant his hand found his dagger and struck at Shinpachiro's throat. The point of the dagger missed the man's throat, but sliced across Shinpachiro's face from his chin to his nose, piercing his eye.

"An enemy of my comrade!" a voice shouted out from behind. There was no time cut off the dead man's head. Leaping up, Kyusaku immediately exchanged blows with a new adversary.

Kyusaku knew that several of the Asai suicide corps had made their way into the area, and this man now showed his back and ran. Chasing him, Kyusaku struck at his knee with his sword.

As he fell on top of the wounded man and straddled him, Kyusaku shouted, "Do you have a name worth saying? Yes or no?"

"I'm Kobayashi Hashuken. I have nothing to say except that I regret falling into the hands of a low-class samurai like you before getting close to Lord Nobunaga."

"Where is the Asai's bravest man, Endo Kizaemon? You're an Asai, you must know.”

"I have no idea."

"Speak! Spit it out!"

"I don't know!"

"Then I've no use for you!" Kyusaku cut off Hashuken's head. He ran off, his eyes blazing. He was determined not to let Endo Kizaemon's head fall to someone else's hand. Before the battle, Kyusaku had boasted that he would have Kizaemon's head. He now ran off in the direction of the riverbank where countless bodies lay among the grass and pebbles—a riverbank of death.

There, among the others, was a corpse whose bloodied face was hidden by a tangle hair. Bluebottle flies buzzed in a swarm at Kyusaku's feet. Kyusaku turned around wh he stepped on the foot of the corpse whose face was hidden by its hair. There was nothing wrong with that, but it gave him a strange sensation. He looked around suspiciously, and in that instant the corpse leaped up and dashed off in the direction of Nobunaga's headquarters.

"Protect Lord Nobunaga! The enemy is coming!" Kyusaku screamed.

Seeing Nobunaga, the enemy samurai was about to jump over a low embankment when he stepped on the cord of his sandal and tripped. Kyusaku leaped on top of the man and quickly subdued him. As he was dragged off by Kyusaku to Nobunaga's headquarters, the man roared out, "Cut off my head quickly! Right now! Don't heap shame a warrior!"

When another prisoner who was being led away saw the screaming man, he blurted out, "Master Kizaemon! They took even you alive?"

This extraordinary man who had pretended to be dead and whom Kyusaku had captured was the very one he had been seeking—the fierce Asai warrior Endo Kizaemon.

At first the Oda army had been near collapse. But as the Tokugawa forces under Ieyasu struck the enemy flank, the acute angle of the enemy attack was deflected. However, the enemy had also had a second and third line of attack. As they pushed and then retreated, trampling through the waters of the Ane River, both the enemy and Nobunaga troops were breaking their sword guards and shattering their spears. The battle was such chaos that no one could tell who was going to win.

“Don't be distracted! Just strike straight into Nobunaga's camp!"

From the very beginning, this had been the objective of the second line of Asai troops. But they had driven through too far and had actually come out to the rear of the Oda troops. The Tokugawa forces had also broken through to the opposite bank with the cry, "Don't be bested by the Oda troops!" and had advanced toward the camp of Asakura Kagetake.

Finally, however, the Tokugawa had advanced too far from their allies and were surrounded by the enemy. The battle was in total chaos. Just as a fish cannot see the river in which it swims, no one was able to grasp the entire situation. Each soldier was simply fighting for his life. As soon as a man struck down one of the enemy, he immediately looked up to see the face of another.

From above, it would have looked as though both armies, forced into the waters of the Ane River, had entered a giant vortex. And, as might be expected, Nobunaga coolly observed the situation in exactly that way. Hideyoshi also took a general view of the bat­tle. He sensed that this very instant would decide either victory or defeat. The turning point was a very subtle moment.

Nobunaga was striking the ground with a staff, yelling, "The Tokugawa have struck in deep! Don't leave them there alone! Somebody go to the aid of Lord Ieyasu!" But the troops on both right and left did not have enough remaining strength. Nobunaga was shouting in vain. Then, from a stand of trees on the northern bank, a single corps of men dashed directly through the chaos to the opposite bank, kicking up a pure-white spray of water.

Hideyoshi, while he had not received Nobunaga's orders, had also understood the situation. Nobunaga saw the standard with Hideyoshi's golden gourd and thought, Ah, good! Hideyoshi has done it.

Wiping the sweat from his eyes with his gauntlet, Nobunaga said to his pages, "A moment like this won't come again. Go down to the river and see what you can do."

Ranmaru and the others—even the youngest—all ran at the enemy, each one vying to be first. The Tokugawa, who had pushed in so deeply, were quite definitely in trouble, but in this game of battlefield chess, the astute Ieyasu was the one piece that had been placed on the vital point.

Nobunaga is not likely to let this one piece die, Ieyasu told himself. Ittetsu's men followed Hideyoshi's. Finally, Ikeda Shonyu's men poured in. Suddenly the tide of the battle had changed, and the Oda were winning. Asakura Kagetake's forces retreated more than three leagues, and Asai Nagamasa's forces fled hurriedly toward Odani Castle.

From that point on, it was a battle of pursuit. The Asakura were chased to Mount Oyose, and Asai Nagamasa retreated behind the walls of Odani Castle. Nobunaga dealt with the aftermath of the battle in two days, and on the third day he led his army back to Gifu. He had moved with the speed of the cuckoo that nightly flew over the Ane River, which now washed the bodies of the dead on its shores.

*  *  *

A great man is not made simply by innate ability. Circumstances must give him the opportunity. These circumstances are often the malevolent conditions that surround a man and work on his character, almost as if they were trying to torture him. When his enemies have taken every form possible, both seen and unseen, and ally themselves to confront him with every hardship imaginable, he encounters the real test of greatness.

Directly after the battle of the Ane River, Nobunaga returned home with such speed that the generals of his various units asked themselves if something had happened in Gifu. Quite naturally, the strategies of the field staff are not understood by the rank and file. A rumor now circulated among the soldiers that Hideyoshi had strongly advocated taking the main castle of the Asai at Odani and putting an end to them once and for all, but Lord Nobunaga had not agreed. Instead, the very next day he had made Hideyoshi commander of Yokoyama Castle, a branch castle that the enemy had abandoned, while he himself withdrew to Gifu.

The soldiers were not the only ones who did not understand the reasons behind Nobunaga's sudden return to Gifu. Very likely his closest retainers did not understand their lord's real intentions, either. The only man who might have had some idea was Ieyasu, whose impartial eye never strayed for long from Nobunaga: not too close at hand, but too distant; without excessive emotion, but not too coolly.

On the day Nobunaga left, Ieyasu returned to Hamamatsu. On the way, he said to his generals, "As soon as Lord Nobunaga takes off his bloodstained armor, he'll dress himself for the capital and whip his horse straight for Kyoto. His mind is like a restless young colt."

In the end, that is exactly what happened. By the time Ieyasu arrived at Hamamatsu Nobunaga was already on his way to Kyoto. Which is not to say that there was anything going on in the capital at the time. What Nobunaga feared was something that he could not see—a phantom enemy.

Nobunaga had disclosed his concern to Hideyoshi. "What do you think my biggest worry is? I imagine you know, don't you?"

Hideyoshi cocked his head to one side and said, "Well, now. It isn't the Takeda of kai, who are always lying in wait at your rear, or the Asai or Asakura clan. Lord Ieyasu someone to be careful of, but he's an intelligent man and so shouldn't be feared altogether. The Matsunaga and Miyoshi are like flies, and there are plenty of rotting things for them to swarm around, as it's their nature to go after the dying. Your only really troublesome enemies are the warrior-monks of the Honganji, but they don't trouble my lord much yet, I think. That only leaves one person."

"And who is he? Speak up."

"He's neither enemy nor ally. You have to show him respect, but if that's all you do,  you might quickly become trapped. He's a two-faced apparition—oh, dear, I've spoken improperly. Aren't we talking about the shogun?"

"Right. But don't mention this to anyone." Nobunaga's anxiety was about this man, who was indeed truly neither friend nor foe: Yoshiaki, the shogun.

Yoshiaki had shed tears of gratitude over Nobunaga's past favors to him, and even said that he thought of Nobunaga as his own father. So why Yoshiaki? Duplicity is always found hidden away in places where one would least imagine it to be. Yoshiaki’s and Nobunaga's characters were not matched at all; their educations were different, so were their beliefs. As long as Nobunaga had helped him, Yoshiaki treated Nobunaga as a benefactor. But once he had warmed the shogun's seat a little, his gratitude turned to loathing.

"The bumpkin is annoying," Yoshiaki was heard to say. He began to avoid Nobunaga, and even regarded him as a stumbling block, whose authority exceeded his own. He was not, however, brave enough to bring matters out into the open and fight him. Yoshiaki's nature was completely negative. And, opposed to Nobunaga's positiveness, it played itself out in secrecy to the very end.

In a secluded room deep within Nijo Palace, the shogun conversed with an emissary from the warrior-monks of the Honganji.

"Abbot Kennyo resents him too? It's not surprising that Nobunaga's unparalleled arrogance and high-handedness anger the abbot."

The messenger concluded before leaving, "Please make sure that everything I've said is kept secret. At the same time, perhaps it would be advisable to send secret messages to Kai and to the Asai and Asakura clans so as not to miss this opportunity."

On the very same day, in another part of the palace, Nobunaga was waiting for Yoshiaki in order to announce his arrival in the capital. Yoshiaki composed himself, assumed an air of complete innocence, and went into the reception room to meet with Nobunaga.

"I hear that the battle of the Ane River was a splendid victory for you. Yet another ex-ample of your military prowess. Congratulations! This is a happy event indeed."

Nobunaga was unable to suppress a bitter smile at this flattery, and he replied with some irony, "No, no. It was thanks to Your Excellency's virtue and influence that we were able to fight so bravely, knowing there would be no unhappy events in the aftermath."

Yoshiaki turned slightly red, blushing like a woman. "Put your mind at ease. The capital is at peace, as you can see. But have you heard of some untoward event? After the battle, you came here with such frightening speed."

"No, I came to pay my respects at the completion of the rebuilding of the Imperial Palace, to look after affairs of state, and, of course, to inquire after Your Excellency's health."

"Ah, is that so?" Yoshiaki felt slightly relieved. "Well, you can see that I'm healthy and that the government is moving along without any problems, so you shouldn't be so anxious and come here so often. But come, let me treat you to a banquet to congratulate you officially upon your triumphal return."

"I must refuse, Your Excellency," Nobunaga said, waving off the suggestion. "I still haven't sent words of thanks to my officers and men. I wouldn't feel quite right about accepting an invitation to an extravagant banquet on my own. Let us postpone it until the next time I'm in attendance on Your Excellency."

With this, he took his leave. When he returned to his lodgings, Akechi Mitsuhide was waiting to submit his report.

"A monk who appeared to be a messenger from Abbot Kennyo of the Honganji was seen leaving the shogun's palace. These recent comings and goings between the warrior-monks and the shogun are pretty suspicious, don't you think?"

Nobunaga had appointed Mitsuhide commander of the Kyoto garrison. In this capacity, he meticulously recorded all visitors to Nijo Palace.

Nobunaga gave the report a quick look and said only, "Very good." He was disgusted that this shogun was so difficult to save, but he also felt that Yoshiaki's behavior s really a blessing. That night he called in the officials in charge of the construction of the Imperial Palace, and as he listened to the reports on the progress of the rebuilding, his mood brightened.

The next morning he rose early and inspected the nearly completed buildings. Then, after paying his respects to the Emperor at the old palace, he returned to his lodgings as the sun was coming up, ate breakfast, and announced that he was leaving the capital.

When Nobunaga had arrived in Kyoto, he had been dressed in a kimono. On his return, however, he wore armor, because he was not returning to Gifu. Once again he made a tour of the battlefield at the Ane River, met with Hideyoshi, who was stationed at Yokoyama Castle, flew about giving orders to the units left in various places, and then laid siege to Sawayama Castle.

Having made a clean sweep of his enemies, Nobunaga returned to Gifu, but for him and his men there was still no time to rest from the fatigue of the lingering summer heat.

It was in Gifu that urgent letters reached Nobunaga from Hosokawa Fujitaka, who was at Nakanoshima Castle in Settsu, and from Akechi Mitsuhide in Kyoto. These letters informed him that in Noda, Fukushima, and Nakanoshima in Settsu, the Miyoshi had more than a thousand men building fortresses. These had been joined by the warrior-monks of the Honganji and their followers. Both Mitsuhide and Fujitaka stressed that there was no time to delay, and asked for Nobunaga's orders.

The main temple of the Honganji had been built during a period of civil disorder and confusion. It had been constructed to withstand the disturbances of the day: outside its stone walls was a deep moat, spanned by a fortified bridge. Although the Honganji was a temple, its construction was that of a castle. To be a monk here meant to be a warrior, and this place had no fewer warrior-monks than Nara and Mount Hiei. Very likely there was not a single priest living in this ancient Buddhist fortress who did not hate the up-start Nobunaga. They accused him of being an enemy of Buddhism who flouted tradition, a destroyer of culture, and a devil who knew no bounds—a beast among men.

When, instead of negotiating, Nobunaga had confronted the Honganji and forced them to cede some of their land to him, he had gone too far. The pride of the Buddhist fortress was strong, and the privileges it enjoyed were ancient. Reports from the west and other regions began to trickle in that the Honganji was arming itself. The temple had bought two thousand guns, the number of warrior-monks had increased manyfold, and new defensive moats were being dug around the fortress.

Nobunaga had anticipated that they would ally themselves with the Miyoshi clan, and that the weak shogun would be seduced to their side. He had also expected that malicious propaganda would be spread among the common people, and that this would most likely set off a popular uprising against him.

When he received urgent messages from Kyoto and Osaka, he was not particularly surprised. Rather, he was more fully resolved to take the opportunity, and quickly went to Settsu himself, stopping in Kyoto on the way.

“I humbly request that Your Excellency accompany my army," he told the shogun. “Your presence will be an inspiration to my troops, and will speed the quelling of the insurrection."

Yoshiaki was naturally reluctant, but he could not refuse. And although it seemed that Nobunaga was taking along a useless hanger-on, it benefited him to have the shield of the shogun's name as one more ploy to sow dissension among his enemies.

*  *  *

The area between the Kanzaki and Nakatsu rivers in Naniwa was a vast marshy plain, dotted with occasional patches of farmland. Nakajima was divided into the northern and southern districts. The fortress in the north was held by the Miyoshi, and the small castie in the south by Hosokawa Fujitaka. The battle was centered in this area, and continued violently from the beginning to the middle of the Ninth Month, now with a victory, now with a defeat. It was open warfare, with the new style of both small and large firearms in use.

In the middle of the Ninth Month, the Asai and Asakura, who had remained barricaded in their mountain casties, meditating on the bitterness of defeat and watching for Nobunaga to make a mistake, took up arms, crossed Lake Biwa, and set up their camps on the beaches at Otsu and Karasaki. One unit went to the Buddhist stronghold of Mount Hiei. For the first time, all the warrior-monks of the various sects were united against Nobunaga.

Their common complaint was, "Nobunaga has arbitrarily confiscated our lands and trampled our honor and the mountain that has been inviolate since the time of Saint Dengyo!"

There were close ties between Mount Hiei and the Asai and Asakura clans. The three agreed to cut off Nobunaga's retreat. The Asakura army moved out from the mountains north of the lake, while the Asai army crossed the lake and went ashore. The disposition of their troops indicated that they intended to grip the throat of Otsu and enter Kyoto. Then, waiting at the Yodo River, they would move in concert with the Honganji and destroy Nobunaga in a single offensive.

Nobunaga had been fighting hard for several days, confronting the warrior-monks and the large Miyoshi army from the fortress at Nakajima in the swamps between the Kanzaki and Nakatsu rivers. On the twenty-second, an alarming but cryptic report that a calamity was approaching from the rear reached his ears.

The details were not yet available, but Nobunaga inferred that when they came they would not be pleasant. He ground his teeth, wondering what this calamity might be. Calling Katsuie, he ordered him to take charge of the rear guard. As for himself he said, "I'm going to pull back immediately and crush the Asai, the Asakura, and Mount Hiei."

"Shouldn't we wait one more night for the next detailed report?" Katsuie said, trying to stop him.

"Why? Now is the time when the world is going to change!" That said, nothing was going to change his mind. He rode hard to Kyoto, changing horses more than once.

"My lord!"

"What a tragedy!"

Crying bitterly, a number of retainers crowded in front of his horse. "Your younger brother, Lord Nobuharu, and Mori Yoshinari met with heroic deaths at Uji, struck down after two days and two nights of bitter fighting."

The first man could not go on, so one of his companions continued, his voice quavering, "The Asai and Asakura and their allies, the monks, had a great army of over twenty thousand, so their strength could not be withstood."

Seemingly unmoved, Nobunaga replied, "Don't just read the names of dead men who are never going to come back at a time like this—what I want to hear is what’s going on now! How far has the enemy advanced? Where is the front line? I suppose none of you knows that. Is Mitsuhide here? If he's at the front, call him back immediately. Call Mitsuhide!"

A forest of banners surrounded the Mii Temple—the headquarters of the Asai and Asakura. The day before, the generals had inspected the severed head of Nobunaga’s younger brother, Nobuharu, before a large crowd. After that, they had examined the heads of other famous warriors of the Oda clan, one after another, until they were almost bored.

"That avenges our defeat at the Ane River. I feel a lot better now," one man muttered.

"Not until we've seen Nobunaga's head!" another man said.

Then someone laughed in a hoarse voice, thick with the accent of the north. "We've as good as seen it already. Nobunaga's got the Honganji and the Miyoshi in front of him, and us behind. Where is he going to run? He's a fish in a net!"

They inspected the heads for well over a day, until they became sick of the smell of blood. When night fell, the sake jars were carried into the headquarters, helping to raise the spirits of the victors. As the liquor was ladled out and drunk, the discussion turned to strategy.

"Should we enter Kyoto, or seize the bottleneck of Otsu and take him by gradually shrinking the encirclement and drawing him in like a big fish in a net?" one general suggested.

"We should definitely advance to the capital, and annihilate Nobunaga at the Yodo River and in the fields of Kawachi!" another countered.

"That's no good."

If one man advocated one tactic, another immediately opposed him. For although the Asai and Asakura clans were united in their aims, when it came to a discussion within the upper command, each man felt that he had to demonstrate his own shallow knowledge and uphold his reputation. The result was that nothing was decided until midnight.

Tired of the fruitless discussion, one of the Asai generals went outside. Looking up at the sky, he commented, "The sky has turned awfully red, hasn't it?"

“Our men have set fire to the peasants' houses from Yamashina to Daigo," a sentry responded.

"What for? It's futile to burn that area, isn't it?"

“Not at all. We have to contain the enemy," the Asakura general who had given the order countered. "The Oda garrison in Kyoto under Akechi Mitsuhide is tearing aroud as if its members were eager to die. And we, too, should show our own ferocity."

Dawn had come. Otsu was the crossroads of the major routes to the capital, but there was not one traveler or packhorse to be seen. Then one mounted man rode by, followed moments later by two or three others. These were military messengers, riding from the direction of the capital, galloping to the Mii Temple as if their lives depended on it.

"Nobunaga is almost at Keage. The troops of Akechi Mitsuhide are in the vanguard, and they are smashing through with unstoppable force."

The generals could hardly believe their ears.

"Surely it's not Nobunaga in person! There's no way he could have withdrawn from the battlefield at Naniwa so quickly."

"Two or three hundred of our men in Yamashina have already been killed. The enemy is on the rampage, and, as always, Nobunaga himself is giving the orders. He's rid­ing like a mounted demon or god, and he's coming right this way!"

Both Asai Nagamasa and Asakura Kagetake blanched. Nagamasa felt this especially keenly; Nobunaga was his wife's brother, a man who had formerly treated him kindly. The show of Nobunaga's fury made him shudder.

"Retreat! Fall back to Mount Hiei!" Nagamasa blurted out.

Asakura Kagetake picked up the urgent tone of his ally's voice. "Back to Mount Hiei!" At the same time, he screamed orders to his retainers. "Set fire to the peasants' houses along the road! No, wait until our vanguard has gone through. Then set the fires! Set the fires!"

The hot wind scorched Nobunaga's brow. Sparks had ignited his horse's mane and the tassels on his saddle. From Yamashina to Otsu, the burning beams of the peasants' houses along the road and the flames that seemed to swirl through the air could not pre­vent him from reaching his destination. He had become the flames of a torch himself, and his men, as they galloped on, were a horde of fire.

"This battle will be a memorial service for Lord Nobuharu."

"Did they think we wouldn't avenge the spirits of our dead comrades?"

But when they came to the Mii Temple, there was not an enemy soldier to be seen. They had climbed Mount Hiei with all the speed of flight.

Looking up at the mountain, they saw that the huge enemy army of more than twenty thousand men, in addition to the warrior-monks, stretched as far as Suzugamine, Aoyamadake, and Tsubogasadani. Their fluttering banners almost seemed to say, We haven't run away. This battle array will speak for itself from here on.

Nobunaga looked at the towering mountain and thought, It's here. It's not the moun­tain that is my enemy; it's the mountain's special privileges. He saw it in a new light now. From ancient times, through the reigns of successive emperors, how much had the tradi­tion and special privileges of the mountain troubled and pained the country's rulers and the common people? Was there even the faintest glimmer of the real Buddha on the mountain?

When the Tendai sect had been introduced to Japan from China, Saint Dengyo, who had built the first temple on Mount Hiei, had chanted, "May the light of the merciful Buddha give its divine protection to the timbers that we raise up in this place." Was the lamp of the Law lit on this holy peak so that the monks could force their petitions on the Emperor in Kyoto? Was it so that they could interfere with government and grow ever more powerful with special privileges? Was it so they could ally themselves with warlords, conspire with laymen, and throw the country into confusion? Was the lamp lit so that the Law of Buddha might be accoutered with armor and helmet, and line the entire mountain with warriors' spears, guns, and war banners?

Tears of rage ran from Nobunaga's eyes. It was clear to him that this was all blasphemy. Mount Hiei had been established to protect the nation, and so had been granted special privileges. But where was the original purpose of Mount Hiei now? The main temple building, the seven shrines, the monasteries of the eastern and the western pagodas were nothing more than the barracks of armed demons in monks' robes.

All right! Nobunaga bit his lip so hard that his teeth became stained with blood. Let them call me a demon king who destroys Buddhism! The magnificent beauties of the mountain are nothing more than the false allures of an enchantress, and these armored monks are nothing more than fools. I'm going to burn them with the flames of war and let the true Buddha be called forth from these ashes!

On the same day he gave the order for the entire mountain to be surrounded. Naturally, it took several days for his army to cross the lake, pass over the mountains, and join him.

"The blood of my brother and Mori Yoshinari has not yet dried. Let their unswervingly loyal souls sleep in peace. Let their blood be like lanterns that will light up the world!"

Nobunaga knelt on the earth and folded his hands in prayer. He had made an enemy of the holy mountain and had ordered his army to surround it. Now, on a lump of earth, Nobunaga put his hands together in prayer and wept. Suddenly he saw one of his pages crying, with his hands together in the same way. It was Ranmaru, who had lost his father, Mori Yoshinari.

"Ranmaru, are you crying?"

"Please forgive me, my lord."

"I'll forgive you. But stop crying, or your father's spirit will laugh at you."

But Nobunaga's own eyes were becoming red. Ordering his camp stool moved to the top of a hill, he looked out over the disposition of the besieging troops. As far as the eye could see, the foothills of Mount Hiei were filled with the banners of his own men.

Half of the month passed by. The siege of the mountain—an unusual strategy for Nobunaga—continued. He had cut off the enemy's supply of provisions and was going try to starve them out. His plan was in fact already working. With an army of over twenty thousand men, the granaries of the mountain had quickly been emptied. They had already started to eat the bark off the trees.

Winter set in, and the cold weather on the mountaintop caused more suffering for the defenders.

“It's about the right time, don't you think?" Hideyoshi said to Nobunaga.

Nobunaga summoned a retainer, Ittetsu. Receiving Nobunaga's instructions and accompanied by four or five attendants, he climbed up Mount Hiei and met with Abbot Sonrin of the western pagoda. They met at the main temple, the warrior-monk’s headquarters.

Sonrin and Ittetsu had known each other for some time, and as a mark of that friendship, Ittetsu had come to persuade him to surrender.

“I’m not sure what your purpose was in coming here, but as a friend, I advise you not to carry this joke too far," Sonrin replied, shaking with laughter. "I agreed to meet you because I thought you had come to ask permission to surrender to us. How stupid to ask us to give up and leave! Don't you see that we are resolved to resist to the end? You must be mad to come here to talk such foolishness!"

Excitement burned in the eyes of the other warrior-monks, and they glared at Ittetsu. Having allowed the abbot his say, Ittetsu began to speak deliberately. "Saint Dengyo established this temple for the peace and preservation of the Imperial House and the tranquillity of the nation. I suspect it is not the monks' most fervent prayer to put on armor, to marshal swords and spears, to involve themselves in political strife, to ally them­selves with rebel armies, or to make the people of the Empire suffer. The monks should return to being monks! Drive the Asai and Asakura from the mountain, throw down your weapons, and return to your original roles as disciples of the Buddha!" He spoke this from the very depths of his body, not giving the priests a moment to put in a single word. “Moreover," he went on, "if you do not follow his orders, Lord Nobunaga is determined o burn down the main temple, the seven shrines, and the monasteries, and kill everyone on the mountain. Please give this careful thought, and put away your stubbornness. Will you turn this mountain into an inferno or sweep away the old evils and preserve the single lamp of this hallowed ground?"

Suddenly the monks with Sonrin began to shout. "This is pointless!"

"He's just wasting time!"

"Silence!" Sonrin commanded them with a sardonic smile. "That was an extremely boring, worn-out sermon, but I'm going to answer it politely. Mount Hiei is an authority into itself, and has its own principles. You are just meddling unnecessarily. Master Ittetsu, it's getting late. Leave the mountain right away."

"Sonrin, can you say this on your own authority? Why don't you meet with the men of great learning and the elders, and discuss the matter carefully?"

"The mountain is of one mind and one body. Mine is the voice of all of the temples on Mount Hiei."

"Then, no matter what—"

"You fool! We'll resist military aggression to the very end. We'll protect the freedom of our traditions with our very blood! Get out of here!"

"If that's the way you want it." Ittetsu made no move to get up. "This is such a shame. How are you going to protect the infinity of Buddha's light with your blood? Just what is this freedom you're going to protect? What are these traditions? Aren't they nothing more than deceptions, convenient for the temples' prosperity? Well, those charms have no currency in the world today. Take a good look at the times. It is inevitable that greedy men, who close their eyes and obstruct the tide of the times with their selfishness, will be burned up together with the fallen leaves." With that, Ittetsu returned to Nobunaga's camp.

The cold winter wind swirled the dry leaves around the mountain peaks. There was frost both morning and night. From time to time the cold wind was spotted with snow.  About this time fires began to break out on the mountain almost every night. One night, fires broke out in the fuel storehouse of the Daijo Hall; the night before that, in the Takimido. This night again, although it was still early, there was a fire in the monks' quarters of the main temple, and the bell rang furiously. Since there were many large temples in the area, the warrior-monks worked frantically to keep the flames from spreading.

The deep valleys of Mount Hiei were dark under the bright red sky.

"What confusion!" one Oda soldier said and laughed.

"This happens every night," another added. "So they must never get a chance to sleep."

The cold winter wind whistled through the branches of the trees, and the men clapped their hands. Eating their meal of dried rice, they watched the nightly conflagra­tions. These fires were planned by Hideyoshi, so rumor had it, and carried out by the re­tainers of the old Hachisuka clan.

At night the monks were distressed by fires, and during the day they were exhausted by their preparations for defense. Also, their food and fuel were running low, and they had no protection against the cold.

Winter finally came to the mountain, and the snow flew furiously. The twenty thou­sand defending soldiers and the several thousand warrior-monks were now drooping like frost-blighted vegetables.

It was the middle of the Twelfth Month. Without armor and wearing only a monk's robes, a representative of the mountain approached Nobunaga's camp, accompanied by four or five warrior-monks.

"I would like to speak with Lord Nobunaga," the emissary said.

When Nobunaga appeared, he saw that it was Sonrin, the abbot who had previously met with Ittetsu. He brought the message that, because the views of the main temple had changed, he would like to plead for peace.

Nobunaga refused. "What did you say to the envoy I sent before? Don't you know what shame is?" Nobunaga drew his sword.

"This is an outrage!" the priest cried. He stood up and tottered sideways as Nobu­naga's sword flashed horizontally.

"Pick up his head and go back. That's my answer!"

The monks turned pale and fled back to the mountain. The snow and sleet that blew across the lake that day also blew hard into Nobunaga's camp. Nobunaga had sent Mount Hiei an unmistakable message of his intent, but tho