A Castle Built on Water
In those days the streets of the castle town of Kiyosu rang with the voices of children singing a rhyme about Nobunaga's retainers:
Out in the cold, Nobumori
"Cotton Tokichi"—Kinoshita Tokichiro—was riding out as the general of a small army. Although the soldiers should have been marching out in splendid array, the morale was low, and they lacked spirit. When Shibata Katsuie and Sakuma Nobumo had left for Sunomata, the army had marched out to the sound of drums, with a flourish of banners. In comparison, Tokichiro looked like the leader of an inspection tour of the province, or perhaps of a relief detachment for the front.
A couple of leagues from Kiyosu, a lone rider came chasing after them from the castle, calling to them to wait.
The man leading the packhorse train looked back and said, "It's Master Maeda Inichiyo." He sent a man to the head of the column to inform Tokichiro.
The order to rest was passed along the line. They had hardly walked far enough to work up a sweat, but the officers and men were halfhearted about the whole affair. It was an army that did not believe in the possibility of victory. And if one looked at the faces of the rank and file, one could see they were uneasy and showed no trace of a will to fight.
Inuchiyo dismounted and walked through the ranks, listening to the soldiers' talk.
"Hey! We can rest."
"Don't say that. A rest is all right anytime."
As soon as Tokichiro saw his friend, he dismounted and rushed to greet him.
"The battle you're headed for will be the turning point for the Oda clan," Inuchiyo said suddenly. "I have absolute faith in you, but the expedition is unpopular among the retainers, and the unease in the town is extraordinary. I chased after you to say good-bye. But listen, Tokichiro, becoming a general and leading an army is very different from your previous jobs. Come on, Tokichiro, are you really prepared?"
"Don't worry." Tokichiro showed his resolve with a firm nod of the head, and added, "I have a plan."
When Inuchiyo learned what that plan was, however, he frowned. "I had heard you sent Gonzo with a message to Hachisuka, right after you received His Lordship's orders."
"You know about that? It was absolutely secret."
"The truth is, I heard it from Nene."
"A woman's mouth always leaks, doesn't it? That's a little scary."
"No. Just as I was looking in through the gate to congratulate you on your appointment, I overheard Nene talking to Gonzo. She had just come back from a visit to Atsuta Shrine to pray for your success."
"In that case, you have some idea of what I'm going to do."
"Well, do you think these bandits you're asking to be your allies are reliable? What happens if you don't pull it off?"
"Well, I don't know what you're using as bait, but did their chief give any indication that he agreed to your proposal?"
"I don't want the others to hear."
"It's a secret, is it?"
"Look at this." Tokichiro took out a letter from under his armor and handed it silently to Inuchiyo. It was the answer from Hachisuka Koroku that Gonzo had brought back the night before. Inuchiyo read it silently, but as he returned it, he looked at Tokichiro in surprise. For a while he did not know what to say.
"You understand, I guess."
"Tokichiro, isn't this a letter of refusal? It says that the Hachisuka clan has had a relationship with the Saito clan for generations, and to break with them now and support the Oda clan would be immoral. It's clearly a refusal. How do you read it?"
"Just as it is written." Tokichiro suddenly hung his head. "It troubles me to speak so bluntly after you've shown your friendship by coming after me this far. But if you have the least bit of consideration, please just do your duty at the castle while I'm gone and don't worry."
"If you can say that, you must have faith in yourself. Well then, take care."
"I'm obliged." Tokichiro ordered the samurai at his side to bring Inuchiyo's horse.
"No, don't stand on formality. Go on ahead."
As Tokichiro remounted, Inuchiyo's steed was led up as well. "Until we meet again." Once more waving from horseback, Tokichiro rode straight ahead.
Several unmarked red banners passed before Inuchiyo's eyes. Tokichiro turned and smiled at him. Red dragonflies peacefully flitted through the blue sky. Without another word, Inuchiyo turned his horse in the direction of Kiyosu Castle.
* * *
The moss was surprisingly thick. One might look into the spacious garden of the Hachisuka clan's mansion, so like the temple gardens that one is forbidden to enter, and wonder how many centuries old the green moss actually was. Thickets of bamboo stood in the shade of large rocks. It was a fall afternoon, and absolutely quiet.
It's survived, that's for sure, Hachisuka Koroku would reflect when he went into the garden. It reminded him of the link with his ancestors, who had lived in Hachisuka for generations. Is my generation, too, going to pass without establishing a respectable family name? On the other hand, he consoled himself, in such times as these, my ancestors might appreciate my holding on to what I have. But there was always one part of his character that refused to be persuaded.
On such peaceful days, when one gazed at this old house that was just like a castle, surrounded on all four sides by thick, luxuriant greenery, it was impossible to believe that the lord of this place was just the master of a band of ronin, leading several thousand wolflike warriors who haunted the backroads of an unsettled land. Working secretly in both Owari and Mino, Koroku had managed to secure a power base and enough influence to resist the will of Nobunaga.
Walking across the garden, Koroku suddenly turned toward the main house and called out, "Kameichi! Get ready and come out here."
Koroku's eldest son, Kameichi, was eleven years old. When he heard his father's voice he took two practice spears and went out into the garden.
"What were you doing?"
"If you're addicted to reading books, you're going to neglect the martial arts, are you?"
Kameichi averted his eyes. The boy was different from his powerfully built father, a his character leaned toward the intellectual and gentle. As far as the world could tell, Koroku had a worthy heir, but he was actually unhappy with his son. The more than two thousand ronin under his command were mostly uneducated, wild country warriors. If the clan's leader was not able to control them, the Hachisuka would vanish. It is a natural principle among wild animals that the weak become meals for the strong.
Every time Koroku looked at this son, who resembled him so little, he feared that this was the end of his family line, and deplored Kameichi's gentle nature and scholarly bent. Whenever he had even a little leisure, he would call the boy into the garden and try to pour some of his own fierce fighting spirit into him through the martial arts.
"Take a spear."
“Adopt the usual stance and strike without thinking of me as your father." Koroku leveled his own spear and charged toward his son as though he were an adult.
Kameichi's weak-spirited eyes shrank at his father's terrifying voice, and he retreated, Koroku's unmerciful spear struck Kameichi's shoulder hard. Kameichi screamed and dopped to the ground in a dead faint.
Running into the garden from the house, Koroku's wife, Matsunami, was beside herself. "Where did he hit you? Kameichi! Kameichi!" Obviously angered at her husband's rough treatment of her son, she called abruptly to the servants for water and medicine.
"You fool!" Koroku scolded her. "Why are you crying and consoling him? Kameichi is weakling because you've brought him up that way. He's not going to die. Get away from him!
The servants who had brought the water and medicine simply looked with blank expressions at Koroku's severe face, and kept their distance.
Matsunami wiped her tears. With the same handkerchief she pressed down on the blood that flowed from Kameichi's lip as she cradled him in her arms. He had either bitten his lip when his father had struck him, or it had been cut by a rock when he fell.
"It must hurt. Were you hit somewhere else?" She never quarrelled with her husband, regardless of how displeased or excited she felt. Like any woman of her day, her only weapons were her tears.
Kameichi finally regained consciousness. "I'm all right, Mother. It was nothing. Go away." Picking up his spear and gritting his teeth in pain, he got up again, for the first time demonstrating a manliness that must have delighted his father.
"Ready!" he shouted.
A smile softened his father's face. "Come at me with that kind of spirit," he encouraged him anew.
At that moment a retainer ran in through the gate. Turning to Koroku, he announced that a man claiming to be a messenger from Oda Nobunaga had just tied his horse at the main gate and said that he absolutely must speak with Koroku in private. What should be done with him, the retainer wanted to know. "And he's a little strange," he added. "He walked in casually through the gate alone, without any ceremony, looking around as though he were familiar with the place, saying things like, ‘Ah, it's just like home,' 'The turtledoves are cooing as always,' and 'That persimmon tree has gotten big.' Somehow it's hard to believe he's an Oda messenger."
Koroku cocked his head to one side. After a moment he asked, "What's his name?"
"Ah!" Suddenly it was as though his doubts had melted. "Is that so? Now I understand. This must be the man who sent that message earlier. There's no need for me to meet him. Send him away!"
The retainer ran off to throw Tokichiro out.
"I have a request," said Matsunami. "Please excuse Kameichi from practice just for today. He still looks a little pale. And his lip is swollen."
"Hm. Well, take him along." Koroku left both the spear and his son with his wife. Don't spoil him too much. And don't give him a lot of books, thinking you're doing him favor."
Koroku walked toward the house, and was about to untie his sandals on the steppingstone, when the retainer ran up again.
"Master, this man is getting stranger and stranger. He refuses to go away. Not only that, but he walked through a side gate, went right into the stables, stopped a groom and a garden sweeper, and was talking with them as though he had known them for a long time."
"Throw him out. Why are you being so easy on someone coming around from the Oda clan?"
"No, I even went beyond what you told me, but when the men spilled out of the barracks and threatened to throw him over the mud wall, he asked me to talk to you one more time. He said that if I told you he was the Hiyoshi you met ten years ago at the Yahagi River, you would certainly remember. Then he stood there looking like you couldn't budge him with a lever."
"The Yahagi River?" Koroku couldn't remember at all.
"You don't remember?"
"Well then, this fellow must be really strange. He's just rambling on in desperation. Shall I rough him up good, slap his horse, and chase him back to Kiyosu?"
It was obvious the man was getting annoyed at being a messenger again and again. With a look that said, just wait and see, he turned and had run as far as the wooden gate when Koroku, who was standing on the steps to the house, called out and stopped him.
"Yes, is there something else?"
"Wait a minute. You don't think it could be Monkey?"
"You know the name? He said to tell you it was Monkey if you didn't remember Hiyoshi."
"It is Monkey, then," Koroku said.
"Do you know him?" the retainer asked.
"He was a quick-witted kid we kept here for a while. He swept the garden and took care of Kameichi."
"But isn't it strange that he's come here as a messenger from Oda Nobunaga?"
"That makes no sense to me either, but what does he look like?"
He wears a short coat over his armor, and it looks as though he's come quite a distance. Both his saddle and stirrups are covered with mud, and he's got a wicker basket for meals and other travel supplies on his saddle."
"Well, let him in and we'll see."
"Let him in?"
“Just to make sure, let's take a look at his face." Koroku sat on the veranda and waited.
It was a distance of only a few leagues from Nobunaga's castle to Hachisuka. By rights, the village should have been part of the Oda domain, but Koroku did not recognize Nobunaga, nor did he receive a stipend from the Oda clan. His father and the Saito of Mino had supported each other, and the sense of loyalty among ronin was a strong one. Actually, in those troubled days, they esteemed loyalty and chivalry, along with their honor, even more than did the samurai houses. Although they were fated to live as savage plunderers, these ronin were bound together like father and children, so that disloyalty and dishonesty were not tolerated. Koroku was like the head of a large family, and he was the very source of these iron rules of conduct.
Dosan's murder and Yoshitatsu's death the previous year had caused one problem after another in Mino. And there had been repercussions for Koroku as well. The stipend paid to the Hachisuka while Dosan was alive had been cut off after the Oda blocked all the roads from Owari into Mino. But even so, Koroku was not going to forget his sense of loyalty. On the contrary, his enmity toward the Oda intensified, and in recent years he had indirectly aided defections from Nobunaga's camp and had been one of the major plotters of agitation in the Oda domain.
"I've brought him in," the retainer said from the wooden gate. Just in case, five or six of Koroku's men surrounded Tokichiro as he came in.
Koroku glowered at him. "Come here," he said, with an imperious nod.
An ordinary-looking man stood before Koroku. His salutation was also ordinary. "Well, it's been a long time."
Koroku stared fixedly at him. "Sure enough, it's Monkey. Your face hasn't changed much."
In contrast to his face, Koroku could not help being surprised by the transformation in Tokichiro's clothes. Koroku now clearly recalled that night ten years ago near the Yahagi River, when Tokichiro, dressed in a dirty cotton tunic, his neck, hands, and feet covered with grime, had been sleeping by the riverbank. When a soldier had shaken him awake, he had responded with such big words and such fighting spirit that they had all wondered who he could be. Under the light of the soldier's lanterns, he had turned out to be nothing more than a strange-looking youth.
Tokichiro spoke humbly, seemingly without any sense of the distinction between his former and present status. "Well, I've been quite negligent since I left. It's good to see that you're in your usual good health. I'll bet Master Kameichi has grown up. And your wife is well, too? You know, coming back here for a visit, ten years seem like an instant."
Then, looking around at the trees in the garden with heartfelt emotion and staring at the roofs of the buildings, he talked on and on about his recollections of scooping water from that stone well every day, of being scolded by the master, perhaps, next to that stone, of carrying Kameichi around on his back, and of catching cicadas for him.
Koroku, however, did not seem to be moved in the least by such memories. Rather, he focused on Tokichiro's every movement and finally spoke sharply. "Monkey," he said, addressing Tokichiro as he had done long before, "have you become a samurai?" It was obvious, though, from Tokichiro's appearance, that he had. Tokichiro, however, was not in the least disconcerted.
"Yes. As you can see, I still receive only an insignificant stipend, but somehow I'm on the verge of becoming a samurai. I hope you're pleased. In fact, today I rushed all the way from my post at the camp at Sunomata, partly because I thought you might be pleased about my promotion."
Koroku displayed a forced smile. "These are good times, aren't they? There are even people who will hire men like you as samurai. Who's your master?"
"Lord Oda Nobunaga."
"By the way…" Tokichiro changed the tone of his voice a little. "I've digressed a bit about my personal affairs, but today I've come as Kinoshita Tokichiro, on the orders of Lord Nobunaga."
"Is that so? You're an envoy?"
"I'm coming in. Excuse me." With that, Tokichiro took off his sandals, went up the steps of the veranda where Koroku was sitting, and sat down, taking the seat of honor in the room for himself.
"Huh!" Koroku grunted and sat unmoving, right where he was. He had not invited him to come in, and yet Tokichiro had marched up unhesitatingly and sat down. Korok turned toward him and said, "Monkey?"
Though Tokichiro had answered to this name before, this time he refused. He simply stared fixedly at Koroku, who teased him for his childishness. "Come, come now, Monkey. You've suddenly changed your attitude, but," he said, "until now you've been talking to me like an ordinary person. Do you want to go through the formality of being addressed as Nobunaga's envoy from now on?"
"Well, then, go home immediately. Get out of here, Monkey!" Koroku rose an stepped down to the garden. His voice had taken on a rough edge, and he had a dangerous look in his eye. "Your Lord Nobunaga may think that Hachisuka is within his territory, but nearly all of Kaito is run by me. I don't recall that I or any of my forebears have ever received a single grain of millet from Nobunaga. For him to look at me with the air of a lord of a province is the height of absurdity. Go home, Monkey. And if you say something rude, I'll kill you!" He glared at him and went on, "When you get back, tell this to Nobunaga: he and I are equals. If he has some business with me, he can come himself. Do you understand, Monkey?"
"It's a shame. Are you really nothing more than the chief of a gang of ignorant bandits?"
"Wha-what! How dare you!" Koroku jumped back up into the room, facing Tokichiro with a hand on the guard of his sword. "Monkey, say that again."
“No, sit down. I have something to say to you."
"Hold your tongue!"
“No, I'm going to show you your own ignorance. I have something to teach you. Sit down!"
Wait, Koroku. If you're going to kill me, this is the place, and you're the person to do it, so I don't suppose there's any reason to hurry. But if you cut me down, who's going teach you anything?"
"Anyway, sit down. Come on, sit down. Put away your petty selfishness. What I want to tell you is not just about Lord Nobunaga and his relationship with the Hachisuka clan. It starts with the fact that you were both born in this country of Japan. According to you, Nobunaga is not the lord of this province. Now these are quite reasonable words, and I agree with you. But what I find impertinent is your claim that Hachisuka is your own domain. You're mistaken."
"Any piece of land that is said to be personal property, whether it be Hachisuka or Owari, or any bay or inlet, or even a single clod of earth, is no longer a part of the Empire. Isn't that correct, Koroku?"
"With all due respect, to speak this way about His Imperial Majesty—the true owner of all land—no, to be standing over me, grasping a sword in front of me as I tell you this, is an act of the grossest disrespect, is it not? Even a commoner wouldn't behave that way, and you're the leader of three thousand ronin, aren't you? Sit down and listen!"
Rather than arising from courage, this last shout sounded more as though it had exploded from his entire being. Just then, someone yelled from inside the house. "Master Koroku, sit down! You can't do otherwise!"
Who was that? Koroku wondered as he turned. Surprised, Tokichiro also looked in he direction of the voice. In the green light shining from the central garden, someone could be seen lingering in the entrance to the corridor inside. Half of the man's body was hidden in the shade of the wall. They could not tell who he was, but at a glance, he seemed to be wearing the robes of a priest. "Oh, it's Master Ekei, isn't it?" Koroku said.
"That's right. It was rude of me to yell from outside, but I was concerned about what you two were arguing about so loudly," Ekei said, still standing there with what seemed to be a half smile on his face.
Koroku spoke calmly. "I'm sure that we disturbed you terribly. Please forgive me, Your Reverence. I'm going to toss out this impudent fellow right away."
"Wait, Master Koroku." Ekei stepped into the room. "You're being rude." Ekei was a traveling monk of about forty years of age who had stopped here as a guest. He had the physique of a broad-shouldered warrior. His large mouth was especially striking. At the hint that this monk, who was staying as a guest in his own house, might be taking Tokichiro's side, Koroku looked straight at him. "How am I being rude?"
"Well now. There's a reason not to turn your back on the words of this envoy here, Master Tokichiro has stated that neither this area nor the province of Owari belongs to Nobunaga or the Hachisuka, but rather to His Majesty the Emperor. Can you definitely state that this is not true? You can't. To express dissatisfaction with that national polity is the same as harboring treason against His Majesty, and this is what he's saying. So sit down for a moment, bend to the truth, and listen carefully to what this messenger has to say. After that, you can decide whether it's right to chase him away or to accede to his request. This is my humble opinion." Koroku was hardly an uneducated, ignorant bandit. He had the rudiments of an
education in Japanese literature and he knew Japanese traditions, and from what bloodlines his own lineage flowed.
"I beg your pardon. It makes no difference who is speaking; it's foolish of me to oppose the principle of moral obligation. I shall hear what the envoy has to say."
When he saw that Koroku had settled down and was seated, Ekei was satisfied. "Well then, it would be rude of me to stay here, so I'll withdraw. But, Master Koroku, before you give this messenger an answer, I'd like you to stop by my room for just a moment. There's something I'd like to tell you." With that, he left.
Koroku nodded to him and then turned again toward the envoy, Tokichiro, and corrected himself. "Monkey—no, I mean Lord Oda's honorable envoy—what sort of business do you have with me? Let's hear it briefly."
Tokichiro unconsciously moistened his lips and considered that this was the turning point. Would he be able to persuade this man with an eloquent tongue and a cool head? The construction of the castle at Sunomata, the rest of his life, and, in its turn, the rise or fall of his master's clan—everything hinged on whether Koroku would say yes or no. Tokichiro was tense.
"In fact, this is not a different matter. It has to do with my previous inquiry, sent through my servant, Gonzo, about to your intentions."
"Concerning that matter, I absolutely refuse, just as I wrote in my reply. Did you see my reply or didn't you?" Koroku cut him off bluntly.
"I saw it." When he saw how unbending his opponent was, Tokichiro hung his head meekly. "But Gonzo delivered a letter from me. Today I'm delivering the request of Lord Nobunaga."
"It doesn't make any difference who asks, I have no intention of supporting the Oda clan. I don't need to write two answers."
"Well then, are you planning on leading the family line that your ancestors left to you to its regrettable destruction in your own generation and on this very land?"
"Don't get angry. I, myself, received the favor of lodging and meals here ten years ago. In a larger sense, it's a great pity that people like you are hidden out here in the wilds and put to no use. Thinking of this in terms of both the public interest and my own, I thought it would be a shame if the Hachisuka went down to isolated self-destruction. So I came here as a last resort, in order to return the old favor that I owe you."
“You're still young. You don't have the capacity of running errands for your master with an eloquent tongue. You're just making your opponent angry, and I really don't want to get angry at a youngster like you. Why don't you leave before you've gone too far?"
“I’m not going to leave until I've had my say."
“I appreciate your enthusiasm, but this is the forcefulness of a fool."
“Thank you. But great achievements beyond human strength generally resemble the forcefulness of fools. Nevertheless, wise men don't take the road of wisdom. For example, imagine that you consider yourself wiser than me. But when looked at objectively, you're just like the fool who sits on the roof and watches his own house burn down. You're still stubborn, even though the fire's spreading on all four sides. And you only have three thousand ronin !"
"Monkey! Your slender neck is getting closer and closer to my sword!"
"What? It's my neck that's in danger? Even if you remain loyal to the Saito, what kind of people are they? They have committed every treachery and every atrocity. Do you think there are any other provinces with such degenerate morals? Don't you have a son? Don't you have a family? Take a look at Mikawa. Lord Ieyasu has already bound himself to the Oda clan in an unbreakable alliance. When the Saito clan collapses, if you rely on the Imagawa, you'll be intercepted by the Tokugawa; if you ask for aid from Ise, you'll be surrounded by the Oda. No matter which clan you choose as your ally, how will you protect your family? All that remain are isolation and self-destruction, isn't that right?"
Koroku was silent now, almost as though he were dumbstruck, almost as though he had been taken in by Tokichiro's eloquence. But even though Tokichiro's sincerity showed on his face as he spoke, he never glared at his opponent or became overbearing. And sincerity, even if it speaks with a stutter, will sound eloquent when inspired.
"I'm asking you once again to reconsider. There's not an intelligent person under the sun who doesn't look askance at the immorality and misrule of Mino. By allying yourself with a faithless and lawless province, you're inviting your own destruction. Once you've accomplished this, do you think anyone is going to praise you as a man who died a martyr's death in the true Way of the Samurai? It would be better to end this worthless alliance, and meet once with my master, Lord Nobunaga. Although it's said these days that the entire country is filled with warriors, there's not one in the land with Lord Nobunaga's genius. Do you think things are going to continue as they are? It's a disrespectful thing to say, but the shogunate is at the end of the road. No one obeys the shogun, and his officials are unable to rule. Every province has withdrawn into itself, each one strengthening its own territory, supporting its own warriors, sharpening its weapons, and laying up stocks of firearms. The only way to survive today is to know who among those many rival warlords is trying to establish a new order."
For the first time, Koroku gave a single reluctant nod of assent.
Tokichiro drew closer to Koroku. "That man is among us now, and he is a man of vision. Only common men cannot see it. You've taken a loyal stand with the Saito clan, but you're so concerned with minor loyalty that you're overlooking the greater loyalty. This is regrettable for both you and Lord Nobunaga. Wipe the little things away from your mind, and think about the bigger scheme. The time is right. Unworthy as I am, I've been ordered to build the castle at Sunomata, and with that as a foothold, I've been given the command of the vanguard to strike into Mino. The Oda clan is not poor in clever or brave commanders, and for Lord Nobunaga to appoint an underling like me among them is daring, and indicates that he is not an ordinary lord like the others. Contained within Lord Nobunaga's orders is the implication that the castle at Sunomata will be commanded by the man who builds it. For people like us, is there any other time to rise up but now? I say this, but there's nothing that's going to be done with one individual's strength. No, I'm not going to embellish my words. I thought that I could put this opportunity to use, and I've gambled my life in coming here to draw you out. If I've been mistaken, I'm resolved to die. But I didn't come here empty-handed. It isn't much, but for
the moment I brought three horses loaded with gold and silver as compensation and military expenses for your men. I'd be grateful if you'd accept it." As Tokichiro finished speaking, someone addressed Koroku from the garden.
A samurai prostrated himself as he spoke.
"Who's calling me 'Uncle'?"
Koroku thought this was strange, and looked carefully at the warrior.
"It's been a long time," the man said, looking up.
There was no doubt that Koroku was startled. He spoke out without intending to do so. "Tenzo?"
"I'm ashamed to say that it's me."
"What are you doing here?"
"I didn't think I would ever see you again, but owing to Master Tokichiro's compassion, I was ordered to accompany him on today's mission."
"What? You came together?"
"After I turned against you and ran away from Hachisuka, I stayed with the Takeda clan in the province of Kai for many years, working as a ninja. Then, about three years ago, I was ordered to spy on the Oda, and so I went to the castle town of Kiyosu. While there, I was discovered by Lord Nobunaga's police and thrown into prison. I was released through the good offices of Master Tokichiro."
"So now you're Master Tokichiro's attendant?"
"No, after I was let out of prison—and with Master Tokichiro's help—I worked with the Oda ninja. But when Master Tokichiro set out for Sunomata, I asked to accompany him."
"Oh?" Koroku absentmindedly stared his nephew. What had changed even more than Tenzo's appearance was his character. That uncontrollable nephew, who was so brutal and barbarous even by the Hachisuka's standards, was no longer recognizable. Now he was courteous and mild-eyed, regretting and apologizing for his former crimes. Ten years ago—it was really ten years—Koroku could have torn him limb from limb!
Angered at his nephew's evil deeds, he had chased Tenzo as far as the Kai border to punish him. But now, when he looked at Tenzo's steadfast eyes, he was hardly even able to recall his anger. This was not just the sympathy of a blood relative: Tenzo's personality had definitely changed.
“Well, I didn't say anything about this because I thought we would talk about it later,” Tokichiro said, "but out of consideration for me, I'd like you to forgive your nephew. Tenzo is now an irreproachable retainer of the Oda. He himself has apologized for his former crimes. He's often told me that he wanted to apologize to you in person but was too ashamed of his former deeds to come here. And, since there were other matters to take care of in Hachisuka, I thought this might be the perfect opportunity. Please let the relationship between uncle and nephew be as harmonious as it was before, and look to a prosperous future."
As Tokichiro mediated from the side, even Koroku did not feel like badgering his nephew for his crimes of ten years before. And as Koroku began to open his heart, Tokichiro did not let the moment go by.
"Tenzo, did you bring in the gold and silver?" When he spoke to Tenzo, it was naturally in the tone of command.
"Well, let's take a look at it along with the inventory. Tenzo, have a servant bring it here.
As Tenzo started off, Koroku called out hurriedly, "Wait, Tenzo. I can't accept this. If I did, it would mean that I was promising to serve the Oda clan. Wait a bit until I've thought the matter over." His flushed complexion showed his anguish. With these words, then, he stood up abruptly and went inside.
Having returned to his room, Ekei had been writing in his travel journal, but now he suddenly stood up.
"Master Koroku?" Ekei said, looking in at Koroku's room, but the man was not to be seen. He went to the chapel and peeked inside, and there was Koroku, seated before the mortuary tablet of his ancestors, with his arms folded.
"Did you give an answer to Lord Nobunaga's envoy?"
"He hasn't gone yet, but the more I talked to him, the more troublesome it became, so I'm just going to leave him where he is."
"He probably won't just go away." Ekei finished speaking, but Koroku remained silent. "Master Koroku," Ekei finally said.
"I've heard that the envoy today used to be employed here as a servant."
"I only knew him as 'Monkey' and had no idea where he was from. I picked him up around the Yahagi River and gave him a job."
"That's no good."
"The memory of the time when he served you has become an obstacle, and you can't see the true form of the man today."
"Do you suppose that's true?"
"I've never been so surprised as I was today."
"Just looking at the face of that envoy. His features are what the world would call quite unusual. Studying people's features is merely a hobby, and when I judge a man's character by looking at him, I usually keep my conclusions to myself. But in this case I was shocked. Someday this man is going to do something extraordinary."
"Yes, indeed. That man may move the entire country someday. If he were not in this Empire of the Rising Sun, then perhaps he might become a sovereign."
"What are you saying?"
"I thought you wouldn't take his request seriously, so I'm telling you this before you decide. Put away your preconceptions. When you look at a man, look with your heart, ot your eyes. If that man leaves with your refusal today, you're going to regret it for the next hundred years."
"How can you say such a thing about a man you've never even met before?"
"I'm not saying this just from looking at his face. I was surprised when I heard his explanation of the way of justice and righteousness. And his refusal to give in to your derision and threats, while refuting you with sincerity and good faith, shows him to be a passionate, upright man. I believe without a doubt that he will one day be a man of great distinction."
Koroku immediately prostrated himself in front of Ekei and said firmly, "I submit humbly to your words. Quite frankly, if I compare my own character with his, mine is clearly inferior. I'll discard my petty egotism and immediately give him a positive answer. I'm extremely grateful for your advice."
He went off, his eyes gleaming, as though he himself had witnessed the birth of a new era.
Hours after Tokichiro's arrival in Hachisuka, two riders hurried through the night toward Kiyosu. As yet, no one knew that the riders were Koroku and Tokichiro. Later that night, Nobunaga talked to the two men in a small room in the castle. Their secret conversation lasted several hours. Only a select few, including Tenzo, knew the reason for their visit.
The following day Koroku called a council of war. All those who answered the call were ronin. They had been under Koroku's command for many years, and they acknowledged his authority in the same way the great provincial lords obeyed the shogun's decrees. Each leader headed a pack of warriors in his own village or mountain stronghold, and waited for the day when they would be needed. Every one of them was surprised by the presence of Watanabe Tenzo of Mikuriya, who, ten years before, had rebelled against their leader.
When the men took their seats, Koroku told them of his decision to abandon his alliance with the Saito clan and switch his allegiance to the Oda. At the same time, he explained the circumstances of his nephew's return. At the end of his address he said, "I imagine some of you will disapprove, and others have close ties with the Saito. I am not going to force you. You may leave without hesitation, and I will not bear a grudge against anyone who crosses over to Mino."
No one, however, got up to leave. In fact, no one showed what he really felt. At this point, asking Koroku's permission, Tokichiro spoke to the men.
"I have received instructions from Lord Nobunaga to build a castle at Sunomata. Until now, I imagine that each of you has lived as he pleased, but have you ever occupied a castle? The world is changing. The mountains and valleys where you can live freely are disappearing. If this were not so, there would be no progress. You've been able to live as ronin because the shogun is powerless. But do you think the shogunate will be able to survive much longer? The nation is changing; a new era is dawning. We will no longer be living for ourselves, but rather for our children and our grandchildren. You have a chance to establish your own households, to become real warriors following the true Way of the Samurai. Do not let this moment pass you by."
When he had finished, the entire room was silent. But there were no signs of discontent. These men, who ordinarily lived without giving much thought to the future, were reflecting on his words.
One man broke the silence: "I have no objection."
He was followed by the others who made the same reply, and all the voices in the room were raised in agreement. They knew they were risking their lives by committing imselves to the Oda, and a fierce resolution burned in their eyes.
* * *
The sound of an ax cutting a tree… then a splash as the tree falls into the Kiso River. A raft is lashed together and pushed out into the current, where it flows downstream to meet the waters of the Ibi and Yabu rivers coming from the north and west, and then comes to a broad sandbar crisscrossed by waterways: Sunomata. The boundary between Mino and Owari. The site for the castle, on which Sakuma Nobumori, Shibata Katsuie, and Oda Kageyu all had met with identical failure.
"What a stupid waste of time. They might as well be sunk in a stone ship under the sea!" From the far bank, the soldiers of the Saito looked across the river, shading their :s with their hands and joking.
"This is the fourth time."
"They still haven't learned."
"Who's the General of the Dead this time? It's kind of sad, even though he is the enemy. I'll remember his name, if nothing else."
"He's called something like Kinoshita Tokichiro. I've never heard of him."
"Kinoshita… he's the one they call Monkey. He's just a low-ranking officer. He can't beworth more than fifty or sixty kan."
"A low-ranking fool like that is their general? The enemy can't really be serious, then."
"Maybe it's a trick."
"Could be. They could have a plan to draw our attention here, and then cross over somewhere else."
The more the soldiers of Mino looked at the construction on the opposite bank, the less seriously they took it. About one month passed. Tokichiro led the spirited ronin of Hachisuka, who had begun to work as soon as they had arrived. It had rained heavily two or three times, but that made it all the easier to float timber rafts. Even when the river overflowed the sandbar one night the men rallied as though it were nothing. Would the rain clouds come before they could finish the earthen enclosure? Would nature win, or would man?
The ronin worked as though they had forgotten how to eat or sleep. The two thousand who had departed from Hachisuka had swelled to five or six thousand by the time they reached their destination.
Tokichiro hardly needed his general's baton. The men were alert and hardworking, and day by day the work advanced right before his eyes.
The ronin were used to traveling through the mountains and plains. And they unstood the laws of flood regulation and earthwork construction far better than Tokichiro did.
Their aim was to make this place their own. With this work, they took a leap away from their former lives of debauchery and indolence, and felt the satisfaction and pleasure of knowing that they were doing something real.
"Well, this embankment is not going to budge, even if there's a flood or the rivers flow together," one of the ronin said proudly.
Before the first month had passed, they had leveled an area larger than the castle grounds, and had even built a causeway to the mainland.
On the opposite bank, the men of Mino looked over toward the site.
"It seems to be taking shape a little, doesn't it?"
"They still haven't put up any stone walls, so it doesn't look like a castle, but the foundations have come right along."
"I can't see any carpenters or plasterers."
"I'll bet they're still a hundred days away from that."
The soldiers looked lazily across the river to relieve their boredom. The river was wide. When it was sunny, a thin mist rose from the surface of the water. It was difficult to see clearly from the other side, but occasionally there were days when the sounds of stone being cut and voices yelling from the construction site were lifted on the wind and carried from the opposite bank.
"Will we make a surprise attack this time? Right in the middle of construction work?"
"It seems not. There's a strict order from General Fuwa."
"Not to fire a single shot. Let the enemy work to his heart's content."
"We've been ordered just to watch until they finish the castle?"
"The first time, the plan was to crush the enemy with a single surprise attack when he began work on the castle; the second time, to attack when the castle was half-built and smash it to smithereens. But the command this time is just to stand here and watch with our arms folded until they've finished the job."
"Take the castle, of course!"
"Aha! Let the enemy build it, and then take it over."
"That seems to be the plan."
"Hey, that's clever. The other Oda generals were a bit tough, but this new commander, Kinoshita, is nothing more than a foot soldier." As the man wagged his tongue and prattled on happily, one of the others gave him a rebuking look.
A third man hurried into the guardhouse. A boat that had been poled down the river landed on the Mino bank. A general with bristly whiskers stepped onto the bank, followed by several attendants. A horse was led off the boat after them.
"The Tiger is coming!" one of the guards said.
The Tiger of Unuma, here!" Whispers and quick glances passed between them. This was the lord of Unuma Castle, upstream; known as one of the fiercest generals in Mino, his name was Osawa Jirozaemon. So frightening was this man that the mothers of Inabayama said, "The Tiger is coming!" to quiet their crying children. Now Osawa came striding up in person, with his eyes and nose thrusting out of his tiger-like whiskers. “Is General Fuwa here?" Osawa asked.
"Yessir. At the camp."
“I wouldn't mind calling on him at his camp, but this is a better place for a talk. Call him over here immediately."
"Yessir." The soldier ran off.
Very soon, Fuwa Heishiro, followed by the soldier and five or six officers, walked briskly toward the riverbank.
"The Tiger! What does he want?" Fuwa muttered, his ill-humored strides indicating how tiresome he thought this interview was going to be.
"General Fuwa, thank you for taking the trouble to come."
"It's no trouble at all. How can I be of assistance?"
"Over there." Osawa pointed to the opposite bank.
"The enemy at Sunomata?"
"Indeed. I'm sure you're keeping watch on them day and night."
"Of course! Please rest assured that we are always on guard."
"Well, although the castle I am in charge of is upstream, I am concerned with more than just the defense of Unuma."
"Yes, of course."
"Occasionally I board a boat or walk along the shore to see what conditions are like downstream, and when I came today, I was surprised. I suppose it's too late, but when I look over this camp, it's rather carefree. What do you have in mind at this point?"
"What do you mean, 'too late'?"
"I'm saying that construction of the enemy's castle has advanced to a surprising extent. It appears that, as you've sat watching nonchalantly from this bank, the enemy has been able to build a second line of embankments, rope off a foundation, and finish about half of their stone walls."
Fuwa grunted, annoyed.
"Couldn't the carpenters already be fitting the timbers for the citadel in the mountains behind Sunomata? And couldn't they have already finished almost everything from the drawbridge to the interior fittings, not to mention the keep and walls? This is my view of the situation."
"These days the enemy must be tired at night from the construction work they've done during the day, and they've neglected to set up defensive positions of any kind. Noto nly that, but the workers and craftsmen, who would only be an impediment during a fight, are living together with the soldiers. Now if we made a general attack, crossing the over under cover of darkness, and attacked from upstream, downstream, and straight across, we should be able to rip this thing out by its very roots. But if we're negligent, we're going to wake up some morning soon and find that a very solid castle has suddenly sprung up overnight. We should not be taken off guard."
"Then you agree?"
Fuwa burst out laughing. "Really, General Osawa! Did you really call me all the way here because you were worried about that?"
"I was beginning to doubt that you had eyes, so I wanted to explain the situation to you right here at the riverbank."
"Now you've gone too far! As a military commander, you're remarkably shallow. I’m allowing the enemy to build his castle this time exactly as he wishes. Can't you see that?
"That's obvious. I suppose you plan to let them finish the castle, then attack, and use it as a foothold for Mino to gain supremacy over Owari."
"I'm sure those were your instructions, but it's a dangerous strategy when you don't know whom you're up against. I can't just stand by and watch the destruction of our own troops."
"Why should this mean the destruction of our troops? I don't understand."
"Clean out your ears and listen carefully to the sounds coming from the far bank, and you'll realize how far the castle construction has got. There's enough activity there for all the soldiers to be working as well. This is different from Nobumori and Katsuie. This time the baton of command has spirit. It's clear that the command has fallen to a man of real character, even if he is from the Oda."
Fuwa held his belly and laughed, ridiculing Osawa for overestimating their opponents. Although they were allies and fighting on the same side, the two men were not of one mind. Osawa clicked his tongue loudly beneath his tiger's whiskers.
"It can't be helped. Well, go ahead and laugh. You'll find out." With this parting shot, he called for his horse and went off indignantly with his retainers.
It seemed that there was someone with discrimination in Mino. Osawa Jirozaemon's prediction hit the mark, before ten days had passed. The construction of the castle at Sunomata advanced rapidly within only three nights.
When the guards got up in the morning after the third night and looked across the river, the castle was nearing completion.
Fuwa rubbed his hands and said, "Shall we go and cheat them out of it?"
Fuwa's troops were skilled in night attacks and river crossings. As they had done before, they closed in on Sunomata in the dead of night, planning to take it with a surprise attack.
But the response was quite different this time. Tokichiro and his ronin were ready and waiting for them. They had built this castle with their blood and spirit. Did the Saito think they were going to give it up? The fighting style of the ronin was completely unorthodox. Unlike Nobumori's and Katsuie's soldiers, these men were wolves. During the battle, the boats of the Mino forces were soaked with oil and set on fire. When Fuwa saw that his men did not have the advantage, he gave out the order to retreat. But by the time he had cleared the words from his hoarse throat, it was already too late.
Chased from the stone walls of the castle to the riverbank, the Mino soldiers barely escaped with their lives, leaving nearly a thousand dead. A number of the soldiers whose rafts had been destroyed were forced to flee up- and downstream, but the men of Hachisuka had no intention of letting them get away. How could the Mino troops escape from ronin who were so at home on rough terrain?
The attack stopped for the night. Fuwa doubled his forces and once again stormed Sunomata. The sandbar and river were dyed red with blood. But as the sun rose, the castle garrison struck up a victory song.
"Breakfast this morning will be all the tastier!"
Fuwa became desperate, and waiting for the storm that evening, he planned his third all-out assault. The Saito troops attacked from both upstream and downstream.
Upstream at Unuma Castle, the soldiers of Osawa Jirozaemon were the only ones who did not respond to the call for a general offensive. The battle was so harrowing that even the ronin suffered heavy casualties in the surging, muddy waters of the river that night, but the Mino forces had to write off the battle as an overwhelming defeat.