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Snaring the Tiger

That year saw no more surprise attacks from Mino. In the meantime, Tokichiro nearly completed the remaining construction on the interior and on the outer defenses of Sunomata Castle. Early in the first month of the following year, accompanied by Koroku, he visited Nobunaga to give him New Year's greetings while making his report.

In his absence, there had been great changes. The plan that he had once advocated had been adopted: Kiyosu Castle, poorly situated in terms of terrain and water supply, was being abandoned, and Nobunaga was moving his residence to Mount Komaki. The townspeople were also moving to be with their lord, and were building a flourishing town under Mount Komaki Castle.

When Nobunaga received Tokichiro at his new castle, he said, "I made a promise. You will take up residence at Sunomata Castle, and I am increasing your stipend to five hundred kan!' Finally, in an extraordinarily good mood at the end of their audience, Nobunaga gave his retainer a new name: Tokichiro would henceforth be called Kinoshita Hideyoshi.

"If you can build it, the castle is yours" had been Nobunaga's original promise, but when Hideyoshi returned to report the castle's completion, Nobunaga had only said, Take up residence there," and had mentioned nothing about its possession. It was almost the same thing, but Hideyoshi considered this as an indication that his qualifications to be the lord of a castle had not yet been proven. This he reasoned from the order given to Koroku (who had recently become a retainer of the Oda clan through Hideyoshi's own recommendation) to take up duty at Sunomata as Hideyoshi's ward. Instead of harboring a grudge against his lord for these actions, Hideyoshi simply declared, "In all humility, my lord, instead of the five hundred kan of land you have offered me, I would like your leave to conquer the same amount of land from Mino." After he had received Nobunaga's

permission, he returned to Sunomata on the seventh day of the New Year.

"We built this castle without injury to one of His Lordship's retainers and without using a single tree or rock from His Lordship's domain. Perhaps we can take the land from the enemy as well, and live off a stipend from heaven. What do you think, Hikoemon?"

Koroku had given up his ancient name and, from the New Year, had changed his name to Hikoemon.

"That would be interesting," Hikoemon replied. He was by now completely devoted ro Hideyoshi. He behaved as if he were Hideyoshi's retainer, and forgot all about their earlier relationship.

Sending out soldiers when the opportunity presented itself, Hideyoshi attacked the neighboring areas. Of course, the lands that he was taking possession of were formerly a part of Mino. The land Nobunaga had offered him was worth five hundred kan, but the land he conquered was worth more than a thousand.

When Nobunaga learned this, he said with a forced smile, "That one Monkey would be sufficient to take the entire province of Mino. There are people in this world who never complain."

Sunomata was secured. Nobunaga felt as though he had already swallowed up Mino. but even thought they had been able to encroach into Mino, the Saito heartland, which was separated from Owari by the Kiso River, was still intact.

With the new castle at Sunomata as a foothold, Nobunaga tried to break through on two occasions, but failed. He felt as though he were beating against an iron wall. But this did not surprise Hideyoshi and Hikoemon. After all, this time it was the enemy who was fighting for survival. It would have been impossible for Owari's small army to conquer Mino with normal tactics.

And there was more. After the castle was built, the enemy realized their former neglience and took a second look at Hideyoshi. This Monkey had risen out of obscurity, and although he hadn't been put to particularly good use by the Oda, he was clearly an able and resourceful warrior who knew how to employ his men well. His reputation grew in the enemy's eyes even more than in the Oda clan, and as a consequence, the enemy strengthened its defenses all the more. It knew it could no longer afford to be negligent. With two defeats, Nobunaga retreated to Mount Komaki to wait out the end of the year. But Hideyoshi did not wait. His castle had an unbroken view of the Mino Plain to the central mountains. As he stood there with arms folded, he thought, What shall we do about Mino? The large army he was going to call up was quartered not at Mount Komaki or at Sunomata, but within his mind. Coming down from the watchtower and returning to his quarters, Hideyoshi summoned Hikoemon.

Hikoemon appeared immediately, asking, "How can I be of service?" Without any thought of their former relationship, he paid his respects to the younger man as his master.

"Come a little closer, please."

"With your permission."

"The rest of you withdraw until I call you," Hideyoshi said to the samurai around m. He then turned to Hikoemon. "There's something I want to talk about."

"Yes. What is it?"

"But first," he said, lowering his voice, "I think you're more familiar with the internal conditions of Mino than I am. Where do you suppose Mino's fundamental strength lies? What prevents us from sleeping in peace at Sunomata?"

"In their ablest men, I think."

"Their ablest men. It's certain that it has nothing to do with Saito Tatsuoki."

"The Three Men of Mino swore an oath of loyalty in the time of Tatsuoki's father and grandfather."

"Who are the Three Men?"

"I think you've heard of them. There's Ando Noritoshi, the lord of Kagamijima Castle." Hideyoshi put his hand on his knee and put up one finger as he nodded. "Iyo Michitomo, the lord of Sone Castle."

"Uh-huh." A second finger.

"And Ujiie Hitachinosuke, the master of Ogaki Castle." A third finger.

"Anybody else?"

"Hm." Hikoemon cocked his head to one side. "In addition to them, there's Takenaka Hanbei, but for a number of years he's stopped serving the main branch of the Saito clan and is living in seclusion somewhere on Mount Kurihara. I don't think you have to take him into account."

"Well then, first we can say that the Three Men underpin Mino's strength. Is that right?"

"I believe so."

"That's what I wanted to talk about, but don't you suppose there's some way we could pull away that support?"

"I doubt it," Hikoemon asserted. "A true man is a man of his word. He's not moved by wealth or fame. For example, if you were asked to pull out three healthy teeth, you surely wouldn't, would you?"

"It's not that clear-cut. There must be some way," Hideyoshi answered softly. "You know, the enemy made several attacks on us during the construction of the castle, but throughout, there was one enemy general who stayed put."

"Who was that?"

"Osawa, the lord of Unuma Castle."

"Ah. That's Osawa Jirozaemon, the Tiger of Unuma."

"That man the Tiger I wonder if we couldn't approach him through some relative?"

"Osawa has a younger brother, Mondo," Hikoemon said. "For some years both my brother, Matajuro, and I have been on friendly terms with him."

"That's welcome news." Hideyoshi was happy enough to clap his hands. "Where does this Mondo live?"

I think he's serving in the castle town of Inabayama."

Send your brother at once. I wonder if he'll be able to find Mondo."

"If need be, I'll go myself," Hikoemon answered. "What's the plan?"

"Using Mondo, I'd like to alienate Osawa from the Saito clan. And then use Osawa to detach the Three Men of Mino one by one, just like pulling teeth."

"I doubt that you yourself would be able to do it, but fortunately, Mondo is not like his older brother, and is very alert to his own personal gain."

"No, Mondo is not going to be enough to move the Tiger of Unuma. We'll need another player to get that tiger into our cage. And I think we can put Tenzo to work on that."

"Brilliant! But what kind of plan do you have, using those two?"

"It's like this, Hikoemon." Hideyoshi inched closer and whispered his plan into Hachisuka Hikoemon's ear.

For a moment Hikoemon stared at Hideyoshi. A head is nothing but a head, so where did these flashes of genius come from? When he compared Hideyoshi's ingenuity with his own, Hikoemon was amazed.

"Well, I'd like to get Matajuro and Tenzo moving right away," Hideyoshi said.

"I understand. They'll be going into enemy territory, so I'll have them wait until midight to cross the river.

"I'd like you to explain the plan in detail to them and give them their orders."

"Of course, my lord."

Knowing what he had to do, Hikoemon withdrew from Hideyoshi's room. At this time, more than half the soldiers in the castle were men who had formerly been ronin from Hachisuka. Now they had settled down and become samurai.

Hikoemon's younger brother, Matajuro, and his nephew, Tenzo, received their orders from Hikoemon, disguised themselves as merchants, and left the castle late that night for the heart of enemy territory, the castle town of Inabayama. Both Tenzo and Matajuro were well suited for this kind of mission. A month later, their work done, they returned to Sunomata.

Across the river in Mino, rumors began to spread:

"There's something suspicious about the Tiger of Unuma."

"Osawa Jirozaemon has been in collusion with Owari for years."

"That's why he didn't obey Fuwa's command during the construction of the castle at Sunomata. It was supposed to be a combined effort, but he didn't move his troops at all."

The rumors triggered more speculation.

"Lord Tatsuoki is going to order Osawa Jirozaemon to Inabayama Castle soon and ask him about his responsibility for the defeat at Sunomata."

"Unuma Castle is going to be confiscated. Right after the Tiger goes to Inabayama."

These rumors spread around Mino as though they were the truth. The origin of these wildfires was Watanabe Tenzo, and behind him was Hideyoshi, who sat in the castle at Sunomata.

"Don't you think it's about the right time? Go to Unuma now," Hideyoshi said to Hikoemon. "I've written a letter I'd like you to give to Osawa."

"Yes, my lord."

"The central point is to entice him. Arrange the day and the place for the meeting."

Carrying Hideyoshi's letter, Hikoemon secretly visited Unuma.

When he heard that a secret envoy from Sunomata had arrived, Osawa wondered wiat it could be about. The fierce Tiger of Unuma had begun to look despondent and unhappy. Feigning illness, he avoided everyone. Recently he had received a summons to go to Inabayama, and his family and retainers were apprehensive about it. Osawa himself let it be known that he was too ill to travel, and seemed in no mood to leave. The rumors had reached Unuma, too, and Osawa was aware of the danger to himself. He resented this frame-up by slandering retainers. He also lamented the disorder of the Saito clan and Tatsuoki's stupidity. But there was nothing he could do, and he could see the day when he would be forced to commit seppuku. At this point, Hikoemon visited him secretly from Sunomata. Osawa decided to act.

"I'll meet him," Osawa said.

Hideyoshi's letter was handed to him. As soon as Osawa read it, he burned it. Then he delivered his reply orally. "I'll let you know the time and place in a few days. I hope Lord Hideyoshi will be there."

After that, about two weeks passed. A message from Unuma arrived at Sunomata, and Hideyoshi, accompanied by only ten men, including Hikoemon, proceeded to the meeting place, a simple private house exactly midway between Unuma and Sunomata. While the retainers from both sides remained on the banks to stand watch over the area, Hideyoshi and Osawa took a small boat onto the Kiso River by themselves. As they sat knee to knee, the others wondered what secret conversation they might be having. The little boat was like a leaf left to the current of the big river, and for quite some time it was kept far away from the eyes and ears of the world, floating in a lovely scene of wind and light. The talk ended without incident.

After they returned to Sunomata, Hideyoshi told Hikoemon that Osawa would probably come within a week. And so, within a few days and in extreme secrecy, Osawa went to Sunomata. Hideyoshi received him with much courtesy, and before anybody in the castle was aware of his presence, he took him on the very same day to Mount Komaki where Hideyoshi had a preliminary audience alone with Nobunaga.

"I've come here with Osawa Jirozaemon, the Tiger of Unuma," Hideyoshi told Nobunaga. "After listening to my arguments, he's had a change of heart and is determined to abandon the Saito and join forces with the Oda. So if you would kindly speak with hin directly, you will have added an outstandingly brave general and Unuma Castle to the Oda forces without having lifted a finger."

Nobunaga, with a surprised look on his face, seemed to be considering the details of what Hideyoshi had said. Hideyoshi was mildly discontented, wondering why his lord did not seem pleased. It was not a matter of being praised for his own efforts, but to have pulled the fierce Tiger of Unuma, like a tooth right from the enemy's mouth, and to have brought him to meet Nobunaga, should have been a great present.

He had assumed that Nobunaga would be happy. But when he thought about it later this was not a scheme he had devised with Nobunaga's consent. Maybe that was the reason. Nobunaga's expression seemed to indicate that it was. As the old saying goes, the nail that sticks out too far will be hammered down. Hideyoshi understood this well, and constantly admonished himself that his own head was sticking out as much as the head of a nail. Yet he was unable to sit on his hands and not act on what he knew would be good for his own side.

Finally, Nobunaga gave what seemed to be reluctant permission. Hideyoshi brought in Osawa.

"You've grown up, my lord," Osawa said in a friendly manner. "You may think this is the first time we have met, but today is actually the second time I've had the pleasure of meeting you. The first time was fifteen years ago, at the Shotoku Temple in Tonda, when you met my former master, Lord Saito Dosan."

Nobunaga responded simply, "Is that so?" He seemed to be evaluating his guest's character.

Osawa did not presume to flatter him. Neither did he humbly humor the man. "Even though you are my enemy, I've been impressed with what you've done in recent years. When I first saw you at the Shotoku Temple, you seemed to be a mischievous young man. But from what I have seen today, I realize that the administration of your domain belies popular opinion."

Osawa was speaking as an equal, frankly and candidly, he was not simply a brave man, but he was rather good-natured, Hideyoshi thought.

"Let's meet again on another day and talk at our leisure. I have a number of things to do today," Nobunaga said, standing up and summarily terminating the interview.

Later he summoned Hideyoshi for a private audience. Whatever was said at their meeting, Hideyoshi looked terribly perplexed afterward. But, without informing Osawa of anything, he played the part of the cordial host and entertained the general at Mount Komaki Castle.

"I'll let you know in detail what His Lordship said, after we return to Sunomata."

Once they were back at Hideyoshi's castle and the two of them were alone, Hideyoshi said, "General Osawa, I have put you in an impossible position, and I think I can only atone for this with my death. Without consulting Lord Nobunaga, I believed that His Lordship would feel exactly as I do, and happily welcome you as an ally. But his opinion of you was completely different from my own," Hideyoshi let out a sigh. Then, pausing, he looked down sadly.

Osawa had realized on his own that Nobunaga's feelings were not very favorable. "You seem terribly upset, but there's really no reason why you should be. It's not as though I can't live without a stipend from Lord Nobunaga."

"The fact is I'd be happy if that were all." Hideyoshi could hardly speak, but he sat a little straighter, as though he had suddenly found his resolve. "I'd better tell you everything. General Osawa, when I was about to leave, Lord Nobunaga summoned me in secret and scolded me for not understanding the military art of the double-cross. Why, he asked, would Osawa Jirozaemon, a man of character with such a high reputation in Mino, be taken in by my glib tongue and become his ally? I didn't foresee this at all."

"Yes, I can imagine."

"He also told me that it was this very Osawa of Unuma Castle who, as a general on the provincial border, had been the tiger protecting Mino and causing so much trouble in Owari for many years. He suggested that perhaps it was I who was being deceived by your clever words and manipulated by your daring. You can see he's full of doubts."

"Indeed."

"He also felt that if you stayed any longer at Mount Komaki, we would be letting you see the defenses of the province, so I was ordered to take you back to Sunomata immediately. Take you back and" Hideyoshi cut his words off short as though they stuck in his throat. Even Osawa was upset, but he looked Hideyoshi straight in the eye, encouraging him to say the rest of the sentence.

"This is difficult to say, but it was His Lorship's order, so I'd like you to hear it. I was ordered by him to take you back to Sunomata, lock you up in the castle, and kill you. He thought this was a grand opportunityone not to be missed."

When Osawa looked around, he realized that he was accompanied by not one single soldier and was inside the enemy's castle. And fearless as he was, his hair stood up on the back of his neck.

Hideyoshi continued, "But as for myself, if I obey His Lordship's order, I will have broken the pledge I already made to you, and this would be trampling the honor of a samurai. I cannot do that. At the same time, however, if I presume myself not to be lacking in the loyalty of a retainer, I'll be turning my back on my lord's orders. I've reached the point where I can neither advance nor retreat. So, on the way back from Mount Komaki, I was despondent and unhappy, which, I suppose, probably made you somewhat suspicious. But please, put away your doubts. I now have the solution very clearly in mind."

"What do mean? What are you going to do?"

"By disembowelling myself, I think I can apologize to both you and Lord Nobunaga There's no other way. General Osawa, let's drink a farewell cup. After that, I'm resigned. I guarantee that no one is going to lay a hand on you. You can get away from here under the cover of night. Don't worry about me, just put your heart at ease!"

Osawa listened silently to everything Hideyoshi said, but his eyes were filled with tears. In contrast to the ferocity that had earned him his nickname, these were tears beyond an ordinary man's; it was clear that he had a character with a strong sense of righteousness. "I'm indebted to you," he sniffed, and wiped his eyes. Could this be the general who had fought in countless battles? "But listen, Lord Hideyoshi. It would be unpardonable for you to commit seppuku!'

"But if I don't, there are no words for an apology, either to you or His Lordship."

"No, no matter what you say, there's no righteousness in cutting open your stomach and helping me. My honor as a samurai will not allow it."

"I was the one who explained things to you and invited you here. I'm also the one who was mistaken about the way His Lordship thinks. So to apologize to both you and His Lordship, it's only proper that I'm the one who should atone for the crime by taking my own life. Please don't try to stop me."

"No matter what kind of mistake you claim to have made, I was also to blame. This is not worthy of your suicide. Instead, let me offer my head to you in appreciation of your good faith. Take my head back to Mount Komaki." Osawa began to draw his short sword

Shaken, Hideyoshi grabbed Osawa's hand. "What are you doing?"

"Let go of my hand."

I will not. Nothing could be more painful than to let you commit seppuku!

'I understand. That's why I'm offering you my head. If you had planned some cowardly trick I could have shown you a real escape, even if I would have had to build a mountain of corpses to do it. But I've been touched by your samurai spirit."

But wait. Think for just a moment. It seems very strange that we're both fighting to die. General Osawa, if you trust me to that extent, I have a plan that will allow us both to live and maintain our honor as warriors. But do you still have the heart to assist the Oda clan one more step?"

"One more step?"

"In the end, Nobunaga's doubts are based on his high regard for you. So at this point, if you did something that would truly manifest your support of the Oda clan, his doubts would melt."

That night, Osawa left Sunomata Castle and went off to an unknown destination. What was the plan revealed to him by Hideyoshi? There was no reason for anyone to know, but later its nature was plain to see. Someone now spoke to Iyo, Ando, and Ujiiethe Three Men of Mino, the very foundation of Saito powerproposing that they all three pledge allegiance to the Oda clan. The man who spoke to them so eloquently, and through whose good offices they were introduced, was none other than Osawa Jirozaemon.

Of course, Hideyoshi did not commit seppuku. Osawa fared well, and Nobunaga added four famous generals of Mino to his allies without ever leaving his castle. Was this Nobunaga's wisdom or Hideyoshi's genius? A subtle interplay of minds seemed to have taken place between lord and retainer, and no one could have said for certain which mind was actually in command.

* * *

Nobunaga was impatient. He had made a large sacrifice to build the castle at Sunomata, and it had taken a good deal of time, so he naturally felt frustrated.

"To avenge the name of my late father-in-law, I will strike down this immoral clan, and release the people who gasp under its evil administration." This had been the declaration of Nobunaga's motive, so that the battle might be one the world would accept, but as time passed, these words naturally started to lose their power. There was also the possibility that his ability was being questioned by the Tokugawa of Mikawa, whom he could feel watching him from the rear.

The actual strength of the Oda was under question, and there was a real danger to the Oda-Tokugawa alliance. Nevertheless, Nobunaga felt impatient. Certainly he had brought Osawa and the Three Men of Mino over to his camp, but this alone had not won him any victories.

To conquer Mino with a single blow was what he asked for. It seemed that, ever since Okehazama, Nobunaga's faith in the concept of "the single blow" had become much stronger than before. Therefore, on a number of occasions, men like Hideyoshi had expressed some opposition.

At the conference to discuss the conquest of Mino that summer, Hideyoshi sat silently in the lowest seat throughout the proceedings. When asked for his views he responded, "I think, perhaps, the time is still not ripe."

This answer was extremely uncongenial to Nobunaga, who asked, almost as a rebuke, "Was it not you who said that if the Tiger of Unuma were to bring the Three Men over to our side, Mino would crumble on its own without our having to leave the castle?"

"Begging your pardon, my lord, but Mino has more than ten times the strength and wealth of Owari."

"First you said it was an excess of men of talent, and now you fear their wealth and strength. If that's the case, just when are we going to attack them?" Nobunaga no longer asked for Hideyoshi's opinion about anything. The council moved on. It was decided that, in the summer, a large army would start out from Mount Komaki for Mino, using Sunomata as its base camp.

The battle to cross the river into enemy territory lasted over a month. Throughot that time, a great number of wounded were sent back. There were never any reports of victory. The battle-weary army simply retreated in complete silence, soldiers and general alike tight-lipped and morose.

When asked by the men who had remained at the castle how the battle had gone, they all looked down and silently shook their heads. Nobunaga was silent from then on, too. It was clear he had learned that not every battle is fought like Okehazama. The castle at Sunomata was quiet now, visited only by the desolate autumn winds from the river.

A call came suddenly to Hikoemon from his master. "Among your former ronin, I imagine there must be a number who were born in other provinces, and quite a few from Mino," Hideyoshi began.

"Yes, there are."

"Do you suppose any of them were born in Fuwa?"

"I'll find out."

"Good. If you can find one, would you call him here?" In a while, Hachisuka Hikoemon brought one of his former ronin, a man named Saya Kuwaju, out to the garden where Hideyoshi waited. He appeared to be a strong man of about thirty.

"You're Saya?" Hideyoshi asked.

"Yes, my lord."

"And you're from Fuwa in Mino?"

"A village called Tarui."

"Well, I imagine you're pretty familiar with the area."

"I lived there until I was twenty years old, so I know it a little."

"Do you have any relatives there?"

"My younger sister."

"What is she doing?"

"She married into a local farming family, and I imagine she has children by now."

"Wouldn't you like to go back there? Just once?"

"I've never thought about it. It's likely that if my sister heard that her brother, the ronin, was coming home, she'd feel very uncomfortable around her husband's relatives and the rest of the village."

But that was before. Now you're a retainer of Sunomata Castle and a respectable samurai. There's nothing wrong with that, is there?"

But Fuwa is a strategic district in western Mino. What would I be doing in enemy territory?"

Hideyoshi nodded repeatedly at this obvious point, and seemed to be making up his mind about something. "I'd like you to come with me. We'll disguise ourselves so that we don't attract attention. Be at the garden gate by nightfall."

Hikoemon inquired dubiously, "Where are you thinking of going so suddenly?"

Hideyoshi lowered his voice and whispered into Hikoemon's ear, "To Mount Kurihara."

Hikoemon looked at him as though he doubted his sanity. He had suspected for a while that Hideyoshi had something in mind, but Mount Kurihara! Hearing his master, he could hardly hold back his surprise. A former retainer of the Saito clan, a man who was regarded as a great strategist, was living a secluded life on the mountain. This man as Takenaka Hanbei. Some time before, Hideyoshi had made a thorough inquiry into the character of this man and his relationship with the Saito clan.

Now, if we can lead this horse through the camp gate in the same way we pulled the Tiger of Unuma and the Three MenThis was Hideyoshi's general plan, but for him to consider penetrating enemy territory and going to Mount Kurihara itself was unthinkable.

"Do you really mean to go there?" Hikoemon asked incredulously.

"Of course."

"Really?" Hikoemon pressed.

"Why are you making such a point of this?" Hideyoshi appeared to think that it was no cause for danger or concern. "In the first place, you're the only one who knows my intentions, and we're going in secret. I'm going to ask you to take care of things while I'm gone for a few days."

"You're going alone?"

"No, I'll take Saya with me."

"Going with him will be the same as going unarmed. Do you really think you're going to be able to cajole Hanbei into being our ally by going alone into enemy territory?"

"That will be difficult," Hideyoshi muttered almost to himself. "But I plan to try. If I go with an open heart, it won't make any difference how firm the ties are that bind him the Saito clan."

Hikoemon suddenly recalled Hideyoshi's eloquence when he had argued against him at Hachisuka. Still, he wondered if Hideyoshi would really be able to bring Takenaka Hanbei down from Mount Kurihara. Even with his eloquence. No, even if things went poorly, and Hanbei decided to leave his mountain retreat, it was possible that he might choose the Saito rather than the Oda.

It was rumored at the time that Hanbei, having retired to Mount Kurihara, was leadsing a quiet, countrified life, perfecting himself as a hermit away from the world. But one day, if his former masters, the Saito, were in danger of ruin, he would return to lead their army. Surely it was true that when they had driven away the great Oda attack before, he had not come to be at the head of their forces, but remained viewing the war clouds over the country from Mount Kurihara, sending his meditations to the Saito one by one and teaching them secret strategies of war. There were people who spread this story around as though it were the truth. It would be difficultHideyoshi himself had said this. Hikoemon felt the same way but even more so, and let out something like a groan.

"That will be a difficult ambition to realize, my lord." The look on his face expressed admonishment.

"Well" Hideyoshi's troubled expression cleared. "There's really not that much to worry about. A difficult thing can be unexpectedly easy, and what appears to be easy can in fact be extremely difficult. I think what's essential is whether or not I can make Hanbei trust in my sincerity. My opponent being who he is, I don't plan on simple stratagems or tricks."

He began preparations for his secret journey. While he thought this trip might be futile, Hikoemon was unable to stop him. Day by day his respect for Hideyoshi's resourcefulness and magnanimity increased, and he believed that the man's ability was far above his own.

Nightfall. As agreed, Saya was standing by the garden gate. Hideyoshi looked every bit as shabby as Saya.

"Well, Hikoemon, take care of everything," Hideyoshi said, and started off as though he were just going to walk around the castle grounds. It was not, in fact, very far to Mount Kurihara from Sunomataperhaps about ten leagues. On a bright day, Mount Kurihara could be seen dimly in the distance. But that single line of mountains was Mino's fortress against the enemy. Hideyoshi took a roundabout route along the mountains and entered Fuwa.

To know the nature and special characteristics of the people who lived there, it was essential to look first at the area's natural features. The district of Fuwa was in the foothills of the mountains in the western part of Mino, and was a bottleneck in the road to the capital.

The autumn colors at Sekigahara were beautiful. Innumerable rivers crisscrossed the land like veins. Ancient history and countless legends remained at the roots of the autumn vegetation as the grave markers of a bloody past. The Yoro Mountains formed the boundary with Kai, and clouds came and went constantly around Mount Ibuki.

Takenaka Hanbei was a native of the area. It was said that he was actually born at Inabayama, but he had spent most of his childhood at the foot of Mount Ibuki. Born in the fourth year of Temmon, Hanbei would now still be only twenty-eight years old, nothing more than a young student of military affairs. One year younger than Nobunaga, one year older than Hideyoshi. Nevertheless, he had already abandoned the quest for great achievement in the chaotic world, and had built himself a hermitage on Mount Kurihara. He took pleasure in nature, made friends with the books of the ancients, and wrote poetry, never meeting with the visitors who often came to his door. Was he a fake? This was also said of him, but Hanbei's name was respected in Mino, and his reputation had traveled as far as Owari.

I'd like to meet him and judge his character for myself, was the first thought in Hideyoshi's mind. It would be regrettable for him just to pass by and not meet such a rare and extraordinary man, when they had both been born into the same world. Even more, if Hanbei was driven into the enemy camp, Hideyoshi would have to kill him. He sincerely hoped this would not happen, because it would be the most regrettable event of his entire life. I'm going to meet him, whether he'll see people or not.


A Castle Built on Water | Taiko | The Master of Mount Kurihara