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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 ambitionto be granted an imperial mandate, and thereby control the shogun and rule the countrywas 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?"

Ive 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 fathers 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 wordsthey 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 excessnot 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 theyre 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 losslike 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.

Im 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 groundeven 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 happynot 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 MinoAndo, Inaba, and Ujiieare 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 returnedfrom 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 poucheverything 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.


The Lord with the Blackened Teeth | Taiko | Characters and Places