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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 Castleless 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 behindtheir horses neck-and-neckwere 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 summeras 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 deathalong 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 soldiersTokichiro 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!"

Its 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 cliched 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."

Ill 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 twoscouts 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 swordalso the work of a famous swordsmithgloves, 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 Narumigraphic 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 colorsmoky 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 itselfthe 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.


Yoshimotos Hostage | Taiko | The Go-between