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The Master of Mount Kurihara

Mount Kurihara, situated next to Mount Nangu, was not very high, and looked almost like a child snuggling against its parent.

Ah, it's beautiful! When they approached the peak, even Hideyoshi, who was no poet, was in ecstasy, struck by the sublime beauty of the autumn sun sinking below the horizon. But now his mind turned to a single thought: How can I get Hanbei to become my ally? And this was quickly followed by another: No, to confront a master strategist by means of strategy would be the worst strategy of all. I can only meet him as a blank sheet of paper. I'll just talk to him candidly, and speak with all my power. Thus he rallied his spirits. Nevertheless, he still did not even know where Hanbei lived, and they had been unable to find his isolated residence by the time the sun went down. Hideyoshi, however, was not in a hurry. When it got dark, a lamp would naturally be lit somewhere. Rather than walking around uselessly, taking all the wrong turns, it would be more pleasant and quicker to stay where they were. At least he seemed to be thinking this way, because he sat resting until the sun had set. Finally they spotted the tiny dot of a lamp off in the distance, beyond a swampy hollow. Following a narrow, meandering path that wound its way up and down, they at last reached the place.

It was a level plot of land surrounded by red pines, halfway up the mountain. They had expected to encounter a small thatched cottage surrounded by a broken-down fence, but they now found themselves approaching a crude mud wall encircling a large compound. As they came closer, they could see three or four lanterns burning farther within, instead of a formal gate, only a bamboo shutter flapped loosely in the wind.

This is so big, Hideyoshi thought as he entered silently. Inside was a pine wood. A narrow path led from the entrance into the pines, and except for the pine needles covering the ground, one was not aware of a single speck of dirt. Walking on, for about fifty yards, they came to the house. A cow was lowing in its stall in a nearby shed. They could hear a fire crackling in the wind, and its smoke filled the air. Hideyoshi stood still. He rubbed his sharp eyes. With a gust of wind from the mountain, however, the place was suddenly swept clear of smoke; and when he looked, he saw a child putting twigs under the stove in a cooking hut.

"Who are you?" the boy asked suspiciously.

"Are you a servant?" Hideyoshi asked.

"Me? Yes," the boy replied.

"I am a retainer of the Oda clan. My name is Kinoshita Hideyoshi. Could you pass on a message?"

"To whom?"

"To your master."

"He's not here."

"He's out?"

"I'm telling you, he's really out. Go away." Turning his back on the visitor, the child sat in front of the stove, and once again began stoking the fire. The night mist on the mountain was chill, and Hideyoshi squatted in front of the stove, next to the child.

"Let me warm myself up a bit."

The child said nothing, but gave him a quick glance out of the corner of his eye.

"It's cold at night, isn't it?"

"This is a mountain. Of course it's cold," the boy said.

"Little monk, this"

"This is not a temple! I'm Master Hanbei's disciple, not a monk!"

"Ha, ha, ha, ha!"

"Why are you laughing?"

"I'm sorry."

"Go away! If my master finds out some stranger has crept into the cooking hut, I get scolded for it later."

"No. It'll be all right. I'll apologize to your master later."

"You really want to meet him?"

"That's right. Do you think I'm going to go back down the mountain without meeting him, after coming all this way?"

"People from Owari are rude, aren't they? You're from Owari, right?"

"What's wrong with that?"

"My master hates people from Owari. I hate them too. Owari's an enemy province isn't it?"

"That's right, I guess."

You've come looking for something in Mino, haven't you? If you're just on a journey you'd better go right on by. Or you'll lose your head."

I don't intend to go any farther than this. My only plan was to come to this house.

"What did you come here for?"

I came to seek admission."

Seek admission? You want to become a disciple of my teacher, like me?"

Uh-huh. I guess I want to become a brother disciple with you. At any rate, we should get along well. Now go talk to the master. I'll look after stoking the oven. Don't worry, the rice won't burn."

"That's all right. I don't want to."

"Don't be bad-tempered. There, isn't that your master coughing inside?"

"My master coughs a lot at night. He's not strong."

"So you lied to me when you said he was out."

"It's all the same whether he's here or not. He won't meet with anyone who calls, no after who they are or what province they come from."

"Well, I'll wait for the right time."

"Yeah, come again."

"No. This hut is nice and warm. Just let me stay here for a while."

"You're joking! Go away!" The boy jumped up as if to attack the intruder, but when glared at Hideyoshi's smiling face in the flickering red light of the oven, he was unable stay angry no matter how hard he tried. As the child stared hard at this man's face, his initial feelings of hostility gradually lessened.

"Kokuma! Kokuma!" called a voice from the house. The boy reacted instantly. Leaving Hideyoshi where he was, he dashed from the hut into the house, and he didn't come back for quite some time. In the meantime, the smell of scorched food drifted out of the large cauldron that sat on top of the stove. Unable to think of it as just someone else's meal, Hideyoshi quickly picked up the ladle on top of the lid and stirred the contents of th cauldronbrown rice gruel mixed with dried chestnuts and dried vegetables. Others might have laughed at this pauper's food, but Hideyoshi had been born on a poor farm, and when he looked at a single grain of rice, he saw his mother's tears. To him, this was no trifling matter.

"That boy! This is going to burn. What a waster."

Taking a cloth, he grabbed the handles of the pot and lifted it up.

"Oh, thank you, mister."

"Ah, Kokuma? It was just beginning to burn, so I took the cauldron off. It seems to have boiled just enough."

"You already know my name, huh?"

"That's what Master Hanbei called from inside just now. Did you talk to the master for me while you were there?"

"He called me for something else. As for interceding for you, if I talked to my teacher about some useless thing, he'd only get mad. So I didn't say anything."

"Well, well. You're strict about following your teacher's orders, aren't you? I'm really impressed."

"Huh! You're just talking for the sake of your own pride now."

"No, it's true. I'm impatient, but if I were your teacher, I'd praise you like this. That's no lie."

Just then, someone came out of the nearby kitchen, holding a paper lantern. A female voice called repeatedly for Kokuma, and as Hideyoshi turned and looked, he could dimly see a sixteen- or seventeen-year-old girl wearing a kimono with a pattern of mountain cherry blossoms and mist, tied with a plum-colored sash. Her figure was illuminated in the sooty darkness by the light of the paper lantern she held in her hand.

"What is it, Oyu?" Kokuma stepped toward her and listened to what she said. When she finished speaking with him, the cherry-blossomed sleeve glided down the dark entrance hall together with the lamp and disappeared behind the wall.

"Who was that?" Hideyoshi asked.

"My teacher's sister," Kokuma said simply and in a gentle voice, as though he were speaking of the beauty of the flowers in his master's garden.

"Listen, I'm asking you. Just to make sure, won't you please go inside just once and ask him to see me? If he says no, I'll leave."

"You'll really leave?"

"I will."

"For sure, now." Kokuma spoke emphatically, but finally he went inside. He returned right away and said abruptly, "He says no, and that he detests receiving guests and I got scolded, sure enough. So please go away, mister. I'm going to serve my teacher his meal now."

"Well, I'll leave tonight. Then I'll call again sometime." Submitting meekly, Hideyoshi stood up and started to go.

Kokuma said, "It won't do any good to come back!"

Hideyoshi retraced his steps in silence. Unmindful of the darkness, he descended to the foot of the mountain and slept.

When he got up the following day, he made some preparations and once again climbed the mountain. Then, just as he had done the day before, he visited the mountain residence of Hanbei at sundown. The day before, he had spent too much time with the boy, so today he tried going up to the door that appeared to be the main entrance. The person who responded and came out to his call was the same Kokuma of the day before.

"What! Mister, you've come again?"

"I wondered if I could ask to meet him today. Do me the favor of asking your teacher again." Kokuma went inside, and whether he really talked to Hanbei or not, he quickly returned and gave him the same blank refusal.

"If that's the case, I'll inquire again when he's in a better mood," Hideyoshi said politely and left. Two days later he climbed the mountain again.

"Will he meet me today?" Kokuma made a round trip inside the house in his usual fashion, and once again refused him plainly. "He says it's annoying that you come so often."

That day Hideyoshi returned in silence again. He visited the house this way any number of times. In the end, whenever Kokuma saw his face, he did nothing but laugh.

You've got a lot of patience, haven't you, mister? But coming here is useless, no matter how patient you are. These days, when I go in to tell my teacher you're here, he just laughs instead of getting mad."

Young boys will easily become friendly with people, and a familiarity had already started to develop between Kokuma and Hideyoshi.

Hideyoshi climbed the mountain again on the following day. Waiting at the foot of the mountain, Saya had no idea of his master's frame of mind, and finally starting to get angry, he said, "Who does Takenaka Hanbei think he is? This time I'm going to go up there and call his rudeness into account."

The day of Hideyoshi's tenth visit was a day of violent wind and rain, and both Saya and the people who owned the farmhouse where they stayed did their best to stop Hideyoshi from going, but he stubbornly put on a straw raincoat and hat, and made the asscent. Arriving at dusk, he stood at the entrance and called in as usual.

"Yes. Who is it, please?" That night, for the first time, the young woman, Oyu, who Kokuma had said was Hanbei's sister stepped out.

"I know I'm bothering Master Hanbei by calling, and I regret that I'm doing so against his wishes, but I've come as my own master's envoy, and it will be difficult for me to return home until I have met him. It is part of a samurai's service to deliver his master's messages, so I'm resolved to call here until Master Hanbei agrees to see me, even if it takes two or three years. And if Master Hanbei refuses to meet me, I have decided to disembowel myself. Alas, I'm sure that Master Hanbei knows the hardships of the warrior class better than any man. Please if you could put in a good word for me."

Beneath the spray of the rain gushing violently from the leaking roof, Hideyoshi kneeled and made his petition. It seemed that the impressionable young lady was moved by that alone.

"Please wait for a moment," she said gently, and disappeared into the house. When she appeared again, however, she told him, evidently with some pity, that Hanbei's answer had not changed. "I'm sorry that my elder brother is so stubborn, but would you kindly withdraw? He says that no matter how often you come here, he won't see you. He dislikes speaking with people and refuses to do so now."

"Is that so?" Hideyoshi looked down in apparent disappointment but did not persist. The rain from the eaves battered against his shoulders. "There's nothing else to be done. Well, I'll wait until he's in a good mood." Putting on his hat, he walked out, dejected, into the rain. Following the path through the pine forest as he always did, he had just come out on the other side of the mud wall when he heard Kokuma chasing him from behind.

"Mister! He'll meet you! He said he'll meet you! He said to come back!"

"Huh? Master Hanbei said he would meet me?" Hideyoshi hastily returned with okuma. But only Oyu, Hanbei's sister, was waiting for them.

"My brother was so impressed with your sincerity that he said he would be at fault if he didn't meet you. But not tonight. He's in bed today because of the rain, but he asked you to come on another day, when he sends a message to you." It suddenly occurred to Hideyoshi that perhaps this woman had felt sorry for him and that, after he had left, she had appealed to her elder brother, Hanbei, on his behalf.

"Whenever you send word, I'll be ready."

"Where are you staying?"

"I'm staying at the foot of the mountain, at Moemon's house, a farmhouse near a large zelkova tree in the village of Nangu."

"Well, when the weather clears."

"I'll be waiting."

"It must be cold, and you're getting wet in the rain. At least dry your clothes by the fire in the cooking hut and have something to eat before you go."

"No, I'll save it for another day. I'll take my leave now." Striding through the rain, Hideyoshi went down the mountain.

The rain continued to fall the next day. The day after that, Mount Kurihara remained wrapped in white clouds, and no tidings came from a messenger. Finally the weather cleared, and the colors of the mountain were entirely renewed. The early autumn leaves of the sumac and lacquer trees had turned bright red.

That morning Kokuma arrived at Moemon's gate leading a cow. "Hey, mister!" he said. "I've come to invite you up! My teacher told me to guide you to the house. And since you're a guest today, I've brought a mount for you." With that, he handed him an invitation from Hanbei. Hideyoshi opened it and read:

Curiously, you have often come to visit this weakened man who has retired to the country. Although it is difficult for me to grant your request, please come for a bowl of plain tea.

The words seemed a bit haughty. Hideyoshi could see that Hanbei was a rather unsociable man, even before he met him face to face. Hideyoshi sat astride the cow's back, saying to Kokuma, "Well, since you brought me a ride, shall we go?" Kokuma turned toward the mountain and began walking. The autumn sky around Mount Kurihara and Mount Nangu was clear. It was the first time since he had come to the foothills that Hideyoshi was able to look up and see the mountains so clearly.

When they finally approached the entrance to the mud wall, they could see a beautiful woman standing there with an expectant expression. It was Oyu, who had dressed and made herself up more carefully than usual.

"Ah, you shouldn't have taken the trouble," Hideyoshi said, hastily jumping down from the cow's back.

Having passed inside, he was left alone in a room. The babbling of water cleansed his ears. The bamboo in the wind brushed against the window. This truly seemed to be a quiet retreat in the mountains. In an alcove with rough clay walls and pine pillars was hung a scroll on which a Zen priest had written the Chinese character for the word "dream."

How can he be here without being completely bored? Hideyoshi wondered, marveling at the thoughts of the man who lived in such a place. And he thought that he himself would be unable to stay for more than three days. He didn't know what to do with himself, even for the time he was there. Even though he was being soothed by the songs of the birds and the soughing of the pines, his mind had dashed off to Sunomata and then gone on to Mount Komaki, while his blood seethed in the winds and clouds of the times. Hideyoshi was definitely a stranger to this sort of peace.

Well, I've made you wait." The voice of a young man came from behind him. It was Hanbei. Hideyoshi had known he was young, but hearing the man's voice, he was impressed with this fact all the more. His host sat down, leaving him the seat of honor.

Hideyoshi spoke hastily, beginning with a formal greeting. "I am a retainer of the Oda clan. My name is Kinoshita Hideyoshi."

Hanbei gently stopped him. "Don't you think we can omit stiff formalities? That certainly wasn't my intention in inviting you here today."

Hideyoshi felt that he had already been put at a disadvantage by this reply. The opening gambit that he had always taken with others had already been taken by his host with him.

"I am Takenaka Hanbei, the master of this mountain cottage. I'm honored by your coming here today."

"No, I'm afraid I've rather obstinately presented myself at your gate and been quite troublesome."

Hanbei laughed. "To be honest, you've been a real annoyance. But now that I meet you, I must say it's quite a relief to have a guest from time to time. Please make yourself at home. By the way, my honored guest, what is it that you're looking for by climbing up to my mountain cottage? People say there's nothing in the mountains but the sounds of birds."

He had taken a seat lower than his guest's, but his eyes seemed to wear a smile, and seemed amused by this man who had shown up from nowhere. At this point, Hideyohi studied him frankly. Hanbei's frame truly did not seem very robust. His skin was :cid, his face pale. But he was a handsome man, and the red of his mouth was especially striking.

All in all, his demeanor must have been the result of good upbringing. He was serene and spoke quietly, and with a smile. But there was some doubt as to whether the surface of this human being really manifested the underlying truth, just as, for example, the mountain today seemed peaceful enough for happy wandering, but the other day a storm had d roared out of the valley, blowing enough to make the trees howl.

"Well, in fact" For an instant Hideyoshi smiled, and he straightened his shoulders a little. "I have come to meet you at Lord Nobunaga's order. Won't you come down from this mountain? The world is not going to allow a man of your ability to live a leisurely life in the mountains from such an early age. Sooner or later you're bound to serve as a samurai. And if that's so, who are you going to serve, if not Lord Oda Nobunaga? So I've come to encourage you to serve the Oda clan. Don't you feel like standing among the clouds of war one more time?"

Hanbei only listened and grinned mysteriously. Even with his quick tongue, Hideyoshi found his zeal considerably diminished by this kind of opponent. The man was like a willow in the wind. You couldn't tell whether he was listening or not. Holding his tongue for a while, he waited meekly for Hanbei to respond, and to the very end he carried himself like a blank sheet of paper, facing this man without stratagem or affectation.

During this time, a light breeze was fluttering from a fan in Hanbei's hand. He had previously placed three chunks of charcoal into a small brazier, and putting down the tongs, he fanned the brazier just enough to ignite the fire without raising the ashes. The water in the kettle started to boil. In the meantime, he took up the napkin used for the ceremony and wiped the small tea bowls for both host and guest. It seemed as though he might be judging the temperature of the water by the sound of its boiling. The man was graceful and seemingly without a fault, but very deliberate.

Hideyoshi could feel his feet beginning to fall asleep, but he was unable to find an opening for his next words. And before he noticed it, the things he had talked about in such detail had flown off in the direction of the wind in the pines. It seemed that nothing remained in Hanbei's ears.

"Well now, I wonder if you have anything to say concerning the things I spoke about just now. I'm sure that making some statement about how you will be repaid in terms of stipend and rank, and trying to entice you with money, is not the way to quicken your return from retirement, so I'm not going to mention such things at all. Now, it's true that Owari is a small province, but it's going to control the nation in the future because no one other than my lord has the capacity. So it's wasteful for you to live in seclusion in the mountains in the midst of this chaotic world. You should come down for the sake of the nation." His host suddenly turned to him as he spoke, and Hideyoshi unconsciously held his breath. But Hanbei quietly offered him a tea bowl.

"Have some tea," he said. Then, taking a small tea bowl for himself, Hanbei sipped the tea almost as though he were licking the bowl. He tasted the tea a number of times, as though there were absolutely nothing else in his heart.

"Honored guest"


"Do you like orchids? In the spring they are beautiful, but they're quite nice in the fall, too."

"Orchids! What do you mean, orchids?"

"The flowers. When you go about three or four leagues deeper into the mountain, on the precipices and cliffs there are orchids that hold the dew of ancient times. I had my servant, Kokuma, pick one and then put it into a pot. Would you like to see it?"

"N-no." Hideyoshi stopped hesitantly. "I have no use for looking at orchids."

"Is that so?"

"I hope to one day, but the fact that my dreams run off to the battleground even when I'm at home shows that I'm still a hot-blooded youth. I'm nothing more than a humble servant of the Oda clan. I don't understand the feelings of such men of leisure."

"Well, that's not unreasonable. But don't you think it's a personal waste for a man like you to be so busily worn out by the search for fame and profit? There's a rather profound significance to a life lived in the mountains. Why don't you leave Sunomata and come build a hut on this mountain?"

Isn't honesty the same as foolishness? And in the end doesn't being without strategy mean being without wisdom? Perhaps sincerity alone is not sufficient to knock at the human heart. I don't understand, Hideyoshi thought as he silently went down the mountain. It had been in vain. His visit to Hanbei's house had been for nothing. Burning with indignation, he turned around and looked back. Now nothing remained but resentment. No regrets. He had been politely sent away after today's first encounter. Perhaps I'll never meet him again, Hideyoshi thought. No. The next time I'll examine his head after they place it in front of my camp stool on the battlefield. He promised this to himself as he chewed his lip. How many times had he walked this road and lowered his head, being perfectly courteous and hiding his shame? This road was now an irritation. He turned around once again.

You worm!" he shouted impotently. Perhaps he was recalling Hanbei's pale face and worn body. In his anger, he quickened his pace. Then, taking a turn in the road that looked out over a cliff on one side, he suddenly seemed to remember something he had been suppressing ever since leaving Hanbei's house. Standing on the cliff, he relieved himself into the valley below. The arcing stream became a rusting mist halfway down. Hideyoshi became abstracted and took care of his business, but when he finished he exclaimed, "That's enough of grumbling!" With that, he quickened his pace even more, and dashed down to the foothills of the mountain.

When he got to Moemon's house he said, "Saya, this has unexpectedly turned out to be a long trip. Let's get up early tomorrow and go home." With his master wearing such an energetic look, Saya thought that the meeting with Takenaka Hanbei must have gone well, and he felt happy for his master. Hideyoshi and Saya passed the evening with Moemon and his family, and then dropped off to sleep. Hideyoshi slept with an empty mind, Saya was so surprised at his master's snoring that he opened his eyes from time to time. But when he thought about it, he realized that the worry and physical fatigue of going up Mount Kurihara every day must have been considerable. With this knowledge, even Saya became teary-eyed.

Trying to triumph, even just a little, must be something, he told himself, but he had no idea that his master's efforts had ended in failure. Hideyoshi was already finishing his travel preparations before dawn. Stepping out into the dew, they left the village. No doubt many of the families there were still sound asleep.

"Wait, Saya."

Hideyoshi suddenly stopped and stood up straight, facing the rising sun. Mount Kurihara was still black above the sea of morning mist. Behind the mountain, the glowing clouds were moving with the colors of the brilliantly ascending sun.

"No, I was wrong," Hideyoshi muttered. "I came to get a person who is hard to get. So that he is hard to get is natural. Maybe my own sincerity is still insufficient. How can I accomplish great things with such smallness of mind?"

He turned completely around. "Saya, I'm going up Mount Kurihara one more time. You go back before me." With that, he abruptiy turned and went back up the road, piercing the morning mist on the slopes of the mountain, going steadily on. So today, again, he climbed the mountain, and before long he was already halfway up. When he came to the edge of a broad, grassy swamp that was close to Hanbei's house, he heard a voice addressing him in the distance.

It was Oyu, and with her was Kokuma. She had an herb basket at her elbow and was riding the cow. Kokuma was holding the reins.

"Well, I'm surprised. You're amazing, aren't you, mister? Even my teacher said you'd had enough and probably wouldn't come back today."

Dismounting from the cow's back, Oyu made her salutations as always. But Kokuma beseeched him.

"Mister, please don't go on, just for today. He said he had had a fever in the night because he talked with you for a long time. Even this morning his mood was horrible, and I got scolded."

"Don't be rude," Oyu reprimanded him, and apologized to Hideyoshi, asking him in a roundabout way not to visit. "It's not that my brother became ill from talking to you, but he seems to have a bit of a cold. He's in bed today, so I'll tell him that you wanted to come. But, please, not today."

"I suppose it would be an annoyance. I'll drop the idea and go back, but"

He took a brush and an ink case from his kimono, and wrote a poem on a piece of paper.

There is no leisure in a life of indolence.

That should be left to the birds and beasts.

There is seclusion even in a crowd,

Tranquillity in the streets of a town.

The mountain clouds are free from worldly attachments,

They come and go of themselves.

How can the place to bury one's bones

Be limited to the green mountains?

He knew very well that it was a poor poem, but it expressed what he felt. He added one more thing:

Where is the destination of the clouds that leave the peaks?

To the west? To the east?

"I'm sure he's going to laugh at me and call me impudent and shameless, but this is the last time I'll bother him. I'll wait here for an answer. And if I see that it will be impossible to complete my lord's order, I'll commit seppuku right here by this swamp. So please go speak to him for me one more time." He was even more earnest today than he had been yesterday. And there was no falseness in his use of the word seppuku. It had slipped out almost unconsciously, from his own zeal.

Rather than despising him, Oyu felt a deep sympathy and returned to her brother's sickbed with the letter. Hanbei read the letter once and said absolutely nothing. He kept his eyes closed for almost half a day. Evening came, and the day turned into a moonlit night.

"Kokuma, fetch the cow," Hanbei said suddenly.

Since he was obviously going to go out, Oyu became alarmed and dressed her brother warmly in padded cotton clothes and a heavy kimono. Then he left, riding on the cow. With Kokuma as his guide, they went down the mountain slope toward the swamp. On a grassy knoll in the distance, he could see the figure of someone who had had neither food nor drink, sitting cross-legged like a Zen priest under the moon. Had a hunter discovered him from afar, he would have thought that Hideyoshi made a perfect target. Hanbei got down from the cow and approached him directly. Then he knelt down in front of Hideyoshi and bowed.

Master guest, I was discourteous today. I'm not sure what promise you've set your heart on, from a person who is nothing more than a worn-out man living in the mountains, but your manners were more than I deserved. It is said that a samurai will die for someone who truly knows him. I don't want you to die in vain, and I will carve this into my heart. And yet, at one time I served the Saito clan. I'm not saying that I will serve Nobunaga.1 am going to serve you, and devote this sickly body to your cause. I came here simply to say this. Please forgive my rudeness of the last several days."

There was no fighting for a long time. Both Owari and Mino strengthened their defenses and left the winter to the snow and icy winds. With the unofficial truce, the number of travelers and the packhorse trains between the two provinces increased. The New Year passed, and finally the buds of the plum trees became tinted with color. The townspeople of Inabayama thought the world would continue untroubled for another hundred years.

The spring sun struck the white walls of Inabayama Castle and enveloped them in an air of indolence and boredom. On such days, when the townspeople looked up at the castle, they wondered why they had built a fortress on the high mountain peak. They were sensitive to the moods of the castle. When the center of their lives came under stress, they felt it right away; when it was filled with lassitude, they, too, became apathetic. No matter how many official notices were posted morning and night, no one ever took hem seriously.

It was midday. White cranes and water birds chattered on the pond. The peach blossoms fell thick and fast. Even though the orchard was enclosed within the castle walls, there were few windless days on the top of lofty Mount Inabayama. Tatsuoki lay in a drunken stupor in a teahouse in the peach orchard.

Saito Kuroemon and Nagai Hayato, two of Tatsuoki's senior retainers, were looking for the lord of Inabayama. Tatsuoki's consorts may not have rivaled "the harem of three thousand beauties" of Chinese legend, but beauty was certainly not lacking here. If the ladies-in-waiting were included, they would have outnumbered the peaches in the orchard. Sitting in groups, they waited, forlorn and bored, for one idle slumberer to awaken.

"Where is His Lordship?" Kuroemon asked.

"His Lordship seems to be tired. He has fallen asleep in the teahouse," the attendant replied.

"You mean he's drunk?" Kuroemon said, and he and Hayato peeked into the tea-house. They spotted Tatsuoki in the middle of a crowd of women, lying stretched out, with a hand drum for a pillow.

"Well, let's come again later," Kuroemon said. The two started to leave.

"Who is it! I can hear men's voices!" Tatsuoki lifted his flushed face, his ears a bright red. "Is that you, Kuroemon? And Hayato? What did you come here for? We're flower-viewing. And you need sake!"

The two seemed to have come for a private conversation, but when he spoke to them in this way, they refrained from informing him about the reports from enemy province.

"Maybe tonight." But night held only another drinking party.

"Perhaps tomorrow." They waited again, but at noon there was an extravagant concert. There was not one day in seven when Tatsuoki looked over the affairs of state. He left that to his chief retainers. Fortunately, many of them were veterans who had served the Saito clan for three generations, and they maintained the power of the clan in the midst of chaos. Leaving Tatsuoki to his own pursuits, the senior retainers never allowed themselves the luxury of sleeping on a fine spring day.

According to the information gathered by Hayato's spies, the Oda clan had learned from the bitter experience of defeat the previous summer, and had realized the futility of trying again. "He's done nothing but lose troops and money in his attacks on Mino, so maybe he's given up completely," Hayato concluded. He gradually came to believe that Nobunaga had abandoned his plans of conquest because he had run out of money.

That spring, Nobunaga had invited a tea master and a poet to the castle, and was passing the days practicing the tea ceremony and holding poetry-writing parties. On the surface, at least, Nobunaga was taking advantage of this period of peace to enjoy life, as though he had no other care in the world.

Just after the midsummer Festival of the Dead, messengers carrying urgent dispatches galloped from Mount Komaki to all the districts in Owari. The castle town was stirring. The investigation of travelers crossing the border was becoming stricter. Retainers came and went, and met in frequent late-night conferences in the castle. Horses were being requisitioned. Samurai pressed the armorers for the armor and weapons they had sent for repair.

"What of Nobunaga?" Hayato asked his spies.

They answered, though less confidently, "Nothing has changed in the castle. The lamps shine until the early hours, and the sound of flutes and drums echoes over the waters of the moat."

As summer turned to early fall, the news broke: "Nobunaga is heading west with an army of ten thousand men! They've established their base at Sunomata Castle. They're crossing the Kiso River even now!"

Tatsuoki, who normally looked upon the outside world with complete indifference, became hysterical when he was finally forced to take notice. His advisers, too, were dismayed because they had yet to come up with appropriate countermeasures.

"It may be a lie," Tatsuoki repeated to himself. "The Oda clan cannot muster an army of ten thousand men. They haven't been able to put together an army that large for any battle until now."

But when his spies told him that this time the Oda had indeed raised an army of ten thousand men, Tatsuoki was terrified to his very marrow. Now he consulted his chief retainers.

"Well, this attack is a reckless gamble. What are we going to do to repel them?"

At length, just as people call upon the gods in times of trouble, he sent urgent summonses to the Three Men of Mino, whom he ordinarily regarded as unpleasant old men to be kept at a respectful distance.

"We sent messengers as a matter of course, but not one of them has come yet," his retainers replied.

'Well, order them to come!" Tatsuoki screamed. He himself took up a brush and wrote letters to the Three Men. But even then, not one of them hurried to Inabayama Castle.

"What about the Tiger of Unuma?"

Him? He's been feigning illness and confining himself in his castle for some time. We can't rely on him."

Tatsuoki suddenly recovered his spirits, as though he were laughing at his retainers' foolishness, or had suddenly hit upon some plan of genius. "Did you send a messenger to Mount Kurihara? Call Hanbei! What's the matter? Why don't you do as I command? Don't procrastinate at a time like this! Send a man out right now. Right now!"

"We sent a message a few days ago without waiting for your command, informing Lord Hanbei of the urgency of the situation and urging him to come down from the Mountain, but"

"He won't come?" Tatsuoki was becoming impatient. "Why is that? Why do you suppose he doesn't come rushing down at the head of his army? He's supposed to be my loyal retainer."

Tatsuoki seemed to understand the words "loyal retainer" to mean someone who generally spoke in a straightforward manner, offending him with his unpleasant looks, but who, in times of emergency, would be the first one to dash forward no matter how far away he might be. "Let's send a messenger one more time," Tatsuoki insisted.

The chief retainers considered it useless, but sent a fourth messenger to Mount Kurihara. The man returned crestfallen.

"I was finally able to see him, but after he read your order he made no reply. He just shed tears and sighed, saying something about the unhappy rulers of this world," the messenger reported.

Tatsuoki received this news as though he had been made sport of. He turned red with anger and chided his retainers, "You shouldn't depend on sick men!"

The days passed busily with such comings and goings. The Oda army had already begun to cross the Kiso River and was beginning to engage the Saito clan's forces in violent fighting. Reports of their army's defeats came to Inabayama hourly.

Tatsuoki could not sleep, and his eyes were glazed. The castle was quickly filled with confusion and melancholy. Tatsuoki had the peach orchard enclosed within a curtain, and there he sat on his camp stool, surrounded by gaudy armor and retainers.

"If our forces are insufficient, keep making more demands on each of our districts. Are there enough troops in the castle town? We won't need to borrow troops from the Asai clan, will we? What do you think?" His voice was shrill and filled with fear, quavering th his own terror and failing spirits. The retainers had to take care that Tatsuoki's state of mind did not influence his own warriors.

By nightfall, fires could be seen from the castle. The advance of the Oda troops continued day and night, from Atsumi and the Kano Plain in the south and extending up the tributaries of the Nagara River toward Goto and Kagamijima in the west. As the Oda advanced, the fires they set became a tide of flame that scorched the sky. By the seventh day of the month, the Oda closed in on Inabayama, the enemy's main castle.

It was the first time Nobunaga had been in charge of such a large army. His determination to succeed could be understood from that fact alone. For Owari, this meant the mbilization of the entire province. If they were defeated, both Owari and the Oda would cease to exist.

Once the army had reached Inabayama, its advance halted, and for several days both sides engaged in bitter fighting. The natural stronghold and the Saito's seasoned veterans proved their worth. What was especially damaging to the Oda, however, was the inferiority of their weapons. The wealth of Mino had enabled the Saito clan to buy a considerable number of firearms.

The Saito had a gunners' regiment, which the Oda forces lacked, that fired on the attackers from the mountainside as they approached the castle town. Akechi Mitsuhide, the man who had created the regiment, had long since left Mino and become a ronin. Nevertheless, the young scholar had devoted himself to the study of firearms, and the foundations of the regiment were solid.

In any event, after several days of blistering heat and close fighting, the Oda troops finally began to tire. If the Saito clan had called on Omi or Ise for reinforcements at that moment, ten thousand men would never have seen Owari again.

Most ominous of all were the shapes of Mount Kurihara, Mount Nangu, and Mount Bodai, looming in the distance.

"You really don't have to worry about that direction," Hideyoshi reassured Nobunaga.

But Nobunaga was anxious. "A siege is not the right strategy, but getting impatient will only injure my own troops. I don't see how we can take the fortress, no matter what we do."

Camp councils were held over and over again, but no one seemed to have a good idea. Finally a plan of Hideyoshi's was approved, and one night soon after that he disappeared from the advance guard.

Starting from the crossroads of the Unuma and Hida roads, which was four or five leagues from the end of the mountain range on which Inabayama stood, Hideyoshi set off with only nine trusted men. Drenched in sweat, the party scrambled up Mount Zuiryuji, which was far enough from Inabayama that no one would be on watch there. Among the men accompanying Hideyoshi were Hikoemon and his younger brother, Matajuro. Acting as their guide was a man who had recently become devoted to Hideyoshi and who felt a deep sense of obligation toward him, Osawa Jirozaemon, the Tiger of Unuma.

"Go from the base of that huge crag toward the valley. Cross that little stream yonder and head for the marsh."

Just when they thought they had reached the end of the valley and of the path as well, they saw wisteria vines clinging to a cliff. Rounding a peak, they found a hidden path to the valley that passed through a low growth of striped bamboo.

"It's about two leagues along this path to the rear of the castle. If you go that distance following this map of the mountain, you should run into a water sluice that leads inside the castle. Now with your permission, I'll take my leave."

Osawa left the group and turned back alone. He was a man who had a strong sense of loyalty. Although he was devoted to Hideyoshi and completely sincere, he had once sworn allegiance to the Saito clan. It must have pained him to lead these men up the secret path that led to the back of the castle of his former lords. Hideyoshi had guessed as much and had intentionally told him to turn back before they reached their destination.

Two leagues was no great distance, but there was virtually no path. As they climbed, Hideyoshi continually referred to the map, looking for the hidden pathway. The map and the actual terrain of the mountain did not match, however, no matter how long he compared the two.

He could not find the mountain stream that was supposed to be their landmark. They were lost. Meanwhile, the sun started to set, and it turned much cooler. Hideyoshi had not given much thought to the possibility of getting lost. His mind was on the troops laying siege to Inabayama Castle. If something went wrong at sunrise the following morning, he would be doing his comrades a great disservice.

"Wait!" one of the men said, so suddenly that they all froze. "I can see a light."

There was no reason for a light to be in the middle of the mountains, especially near a secret path leading to Inabayama Castle. They had probably got quite close to the castle, and this was certain to be an enemy guardhouse.

The men quickly hid. Compared with the ronin, who were extremely agile whether they were scrambling up the mountains or merely walking, Hideyoshi felt at a disadvantage.

"Hold onto this," Hikoemon said, extending the shaft of his spear. Hideyoshi held on tight, and Hikoemon clambered up the precipice, pulling Hideyoshi up behind him. They came out onto a plateau. As the night grew darker, the light they had seen before flickered brightly from a cleft in the mountain to the west of them.

Assuming that the light was from a guardhouse, the path certainly would only go in one direction.

"We have no choice," they said, determined to break through.

"Wait." Hideyoshi quickly calmed them down. "There are probably only a few men in the guardhouse, not enough to worry us, but we mustn't let them signal Inabayama. If there's a fire beacon, it must be close to the hut, so let's find it and leave two men there first. Then, to stop any guard from getting away to the castle, half of you should go behind the house."

Nodding in assent, they crawled away like forest animals, crossing a hollow and entering the valley proper. The fragrance of the hemp in the fields was unexpected. And here were plots of millet, leeks, and yams.

Hideyoshi cocked his head to one side. The hut, surrounded as it was by fields, and of rough construction, did not appear to be a guardhouse. "Don't be hasty. I'm going to take a look."

Hideyoshi crawled through the hemp, trying to keep it from rustling. From what he could see inside the hut, it was clearly nothing more than a peasant's house, and terribly run-down at that. He could see two people in the dim light of a lamp. One seemed to be an old woman, sleeping stretched out on a straw mat. The other one looked to be her son, and he was massaging the old woman's back.

Hideyoshi forgot where he was for a moment, and gazed fondly at the scene. The old lady's hair was already white. Her son was quite muscular, although he didn't seem to be more than sixteen or seventeen. Hideyoshi was unable to think of this mother and child as strangers. He suddenly felt as though he were seeing his own mother in Nakamura and himself as a boy.

The young man suddenly looked up and said, "Mother, wait just a moment. Something's strange."

"What is it, Mosuke?" The old lady raised herself up a little.

"The crickets have suddenly stopped chirping."

"It's probably some animal trying to get into the storehouse again."

"No." He shook his head strongly. "If it were an animal, it wouldn't come close while the light was still shining." The young man slid out toward the porch, ready to go outside, and picked up a sword. "Who's out there, sneaking around!" he called.

Hideyoshi suddenly stood up in the hemp patch.

Starded, the young man stared at Hideyoshi. At length he murmured, "What's goin on? I thought someone was out there. Are you a samurai from Kashihara?"

Hideyoshi did not answer, but turned around and signaled the men hiding behind him with a wave of his hand. "Surround the hut! If anyone runs out of it, cut them down!" The warriors jumped up from the hemp patch and surrounded the hut in an instant.

"Surrounding my house with all this show," Mosuke said, almost as a challenge to Hideyoshi, who had now walked up to the house. "My mother and I are the only two people here. There's nothing here worth surrounding with so many people. What's your business here anyway, samurai?"

His attitude, as he stood on the porch, was anything but confused. On the contrary, it was almost too calm. He was obviously looking down on them with contempt.

Hideyoshi sat down on the edge of the porch and said, "No, young man, we're just being careful. We didn't mean to frighten you."

"I'm not frightened at all, but my mother was startled. If you're going to apologize you should apologize to my mother." He spoke fearlessly. This boy did not appear to be a simple peasant. Hideyoshi looked around inside the hut.

"Come, come now, Mosuke. Why are you being so rude to a samurai?" the old woman said. Then she turned and spoke to Hideyoshi. "Well, I don't know who you are but my son never mixes with worldly society and is just a willful country boy who doesn't know his manners. Please forgive him, sir."

"Are you this young man's mother?"

"Yes, sir."

"You say he's just a country boy who doesn't know his manners, but judging from your speech and his countenance, I find it hard to believe that you're ordinary farmers."

"We scrape out a living by hunting in the winter and making charcoal and selling it in the village in the summer."

"That may be so now, but not formerly. At the very least, you certainly belong to a family of pedigree. I'm not a retainer of the Saito, but due to certain circumstances, I'm lost in these mountains. We have no intention of harming you. If you don't mind, would you please tell me who you are?"

Mosuke, who had sat down next to his mother, suddenly asked, "Master samurai, you speak with an Owari accent too. Are you from Owari?"

"Yes, I was born in Nakamura."

"Nakamura? Not far from us. I was born in Gokiso."

Then we're from the same province."

If youre a retainer from Owari, I'll tell you everything. My father's name was Horio Tanomo. He served Lord Oda Nobukiyo at the fortress of Koguchi."

How strange, if your father was a retainer of Lord Nobukiyo, then you would also be a retainer of Lord Nobunaga." I've met a good person here, Hideyoshi thought happily.

After he had been made governor of Sunomata, he had searched out men of ability to serve him. His way of handling men was not to employ them first and then make his judgment. If he trusted a man, he would immediately employ him, and then gradually put him to use. He had acted in the same way when he took a wife. He had an unusual talent for distinguishing true talent from mimicry.

"Yes, I understand. But I think, as Mosuke's mother, you don't want him to live out his life as a charcoal burner and hunter. Why don't you entrust your son to me? I know it will be taking all that you have. My status isn't high, but I'm a retainer of Lord Oda Nobunaga, Kinoshita Hideyoshi by name. My stipend is low, and I think of myself as someone who is going out into the world armed with but a single spear. Will you serve me?" Hideyoshi asked, watching mother and child.

"What? Me?" Mosuke's eyes opened wide.

So happy she wondered if it was a dream, the old lady's eyes filled with tears. "If he is able to serve as a retainer to the Oda clan, my husbandwho died dishonored in battlewould be so happy. Mosuke! Accept this offer and cleanse your father's name."

Mosuke, of course, made no objection, and immediately swore the oath of allegiance of a retainer.

Then Hideyoshi gave Mosuke his first order: "We are making our way to the rear of Inabayama Castle. We have a map of the mountains, but cannot find the right path. It's a rather difficult task for your first act of service, but you must guide us there. I'm counting on you."

Mosuke studied the map for a while, folded it up, and gave it back to Hideyoshi. "I understand. Does anyone need to eat? Did you bring along enough for two meals each?"

Having lost their way, they were just at the point of exhausting the rations they had carried along.

"It's only two and a half leagues to the castle, but we'd still better bring enough for two meals."

Mosuke quickly cooked rice and mixed in millet, bean paste, and salted plums, enough for ten men. Then he shouldered a single coil of hemp rope, and fixed flint and tinder and his father's sword at his side.

"Mother, I'm leaving," Mosuke said. "To go to battle is an auspicious start in serving my lord, but depending on my fate as a samurai, this may be our last farewell. If that should come to pass, please resign yourself to the loss of your son."

It was time to leave, but mother and child were naturally unwilling to part. Hideyoshi could hardly bear to watch. He walked away from the house and looked at the pitch black mountains.

Just as Mosuke was leaving, his mother called him back. She held out a gourd. "Fill this with water and take it along," she told him. "You're bound to be thirsty along the way."

Hideyoshi and the others were pleased. Until now, they had suffered from lack of water more than once. There were only a few places where springs bubbled up in the rocky crags. But the closer they came to the peak, the less water there would be.

When they reached a cliff, Mosuke tossed his rope, tied it to the base of the root of a pine, and scrambled up first, then pulled the others up behind him.

"From here on, the path becomes even more difficult to follow," he said. "There are a number of places, like the guardhouse at Akagawa Cave, where we might be caught by the guards." Hearing that, Hideyoshi understood the extent of Mosuke's prudence when, having been shown the map of the mountain, he had looked at it for a moment, not giving any quick reply. There was still something of the child about Mosuke, but he thought things out thoroughly, and Hideyoshi felt all the more affection for him.

The water in the gourd eventually became sweat on the ten men. Mosuke wiped a torrent of perspiration from his face and said, "We'll hardly be able to fight if we're this tired. Why don't we sleep here?"

"It would be good to sleep," Hideyoshi agreed, but then asked how much farther it was to the rear of the castle.

"Just down there," Mosuke said, pointing directly into the valley.

They were all excited, but Mosuke silenced them with a wave of his hand. "We can't speak out loud anymore. The wind may carry our voices in the direction of the castle."

Hideyoshi peered down into the valley. The dark trees enveloping the valley looked like an unfathomable lake. But when he looked long and hard, he could just make out the outline of a wall made of huge rocks, a stockade, and something like a storehouse between the trees.

"We're straight above the enemy here. All right, let's sleep until dawn."

The men slept on the ground, and Mosuke wrapped the now-empty gourd in a cloth and put it under his master's head. While the others slept for about two hours, Mosuke was awake, standing guard a little way off.

"Hey!" he called out.

Hideyoshi lifted his head. "What is it, Mosuke?"

Mosuke pointed to the east. "Sunrise."

Indeed, the night sky was beginning to show a tint of white. A sea of clouds covered the peaks. The valley behind Inabayama Castle, which was immediately below them, could not be seen at all.

"Well, let's start our raid," one of the men said, and Hikoemon and the others trembled with excitement, tying the cords of their armor and adjusting their leggings.

"No, wait. Let's eat first," Hideyoshi said.

While the sun came out over the vast ocean of clouds, they finished the second of the two meals Mosuke had prepared the night before. The gourd was empty, but the rice mixed with millet and wrapped in oak leaves, tasted so sweet they thought they would never forget it as long as they lived.

When they had finished eating, the mist in the valley below began to clear. They could see a precipice and a vine-covered suspension bridge. Beyond the bridge was a stone wall covered with thick green moss. The place was dark, and a desolate wind blew constantly.

"Where's the flare tube?" Hideyoshi asked. "Give it to Mosuke and teach him how to set it off."

Hideyoshi stood up and asked Mosuke if he understood how to use the flare, then said, Were going down now to cut our way in. Keep your ears open. As soon as you hear shouting, set off the flare. All right? Don't slip up."

"I understand." Mosuke nodded and stood next to the signal tube. Seeing his master and the others off as they descended into the valley in high spirits, he looked a little unhappy. He would have liked to go with them. The clouds began to look like raging billows, and the plain between Mino and Owari became visible beneath them at last.

Since it was still early fall, the sun shone down harshly. Very quickly the castle town of Inabayama, the waters of the Nagara River, and even the crossroads among the houses came into sight. Yet not a soul could be seen. The sun rose higher.

What's happening? Mosuke asked himself nervously. His heart was pounding. Then, suddenly, he heard the echoing reports of firearms. The smoke of the signal he fired trailed into the blue sky, like a squid squirting ink.

Hideyoshi and his men had walked toward the rear of the castle with faces completely composed, looking here and there around the wide, empty space where the grass was growing thick.

The first soldiers of Inabayama Castle to see the party thought that it was composed of their own men. Stationed at the neighboring fuel warehouse and rice storeroom, they ate their morning rations and gossiped. Even though there had been several days of steady fighting, this was a large citadel, and all of the action had been taking place around the front gate. Here at the rear of this natural fortress, it was so quiet you could hear the chirping of birds.

When there was fighting at the front of the castle, the soldiers at the rear could hear the sound of firearms crackling from the direction of the tortuous path to the front gate. But the few soldiers who guarded the rear thought they would not take part in the battle until the very end.

"They're really having it out, up front," one of the soldiers said complacently.

Eating their rations, the soldiers watched Hideyoshi and his men, and finally began to regard them with suspicion. "Who are they?"

"You mean those men over there?"

"Uh-huh. It's sort of strange, the way they're hanging around, don't you think? They're looking into the guardhouse by the stockade."

"They've probably come from the front lines."

"But who are they?"

"It's hard to tell when they're in armor."

"Hey! One of them's come out of the kitchen with a firebrand! What do you suppose hes going to do with it?"

As they watched with chopsticks in hand, the man carrying the firebrand ran into the fue1 warehouse and ignited the piles of firewood. The others followed, carrying torches and throwing them into the other buildings.

"It's the enemy!" the guards yelled.

Hideyoshi and Hikoemon turned in their direction and laughed,

How did this seemingly impregnable stronghold fall so easily? First, the interior of the castle was thrown into confusion by the outbreak of fire at the rear. Second, the shouts of Hideyoshi and his men panicked the defenders, and they started to fight among themselves, thinking there must be traitors in their midst. But the most important factor in their defeat, understood only afterward, was the result of someone's advice.

Several days before, the dimwitted Tatsuoki had brought the wives and children of the soldiers fighting outside the castle, as well as the families of wealthy townsfolk, into the castle as hostages, so that his soldiers would not submit to the enemy.

The man who devised this policy, however, was none other than Iyo, one of the Three Men of Mino, who had already allied himself with Hideyoshi. So this "strategy" was nothing more than a seditious plot. Because of this, the confusion inside the castle during the attack was terrible, and the defenders were unable to put up full resistance to the attackers. Finally, Nobunaga, who was always looking out for an opportunity, sent Tatsuoki a letter at the height of the confusion:

Today your immoral clan is engulfed in the flames of divine punishment and will soon be overwhelmed by my soldiers. The people of this province look for a sign of rain that will put out these fires, and shouts of joy are already rising from the castle town. You are the nephew of my wife. For many years I have pitied your cowardice and folly, and cannot bear putting you to the sword. Rather, I would gladly spare your life and grant you a stipend. If you wish to live, surrender and quickly send an envoy to my camp.

As soon as Tatsuoki read the letter, he ordered his men to surrender, and he and members of his family left the castle, accompanied by only thirty retainers. Attaching his own soldiers to them as an escort, Nobunaga exiled Tatsuoki to Kaisei, but he promised to give his younger brother, Shingoro, some land so that the Saito clan might not vanish.

With the unification of Owari and Mino, the value of Nobunaga's domains rose to one million two hundred thousand bushels of rice. Nobunaga moved his castle for the third time, from Mount Komaki to Inabayama, which he renamed Gifu, after the birthplace of China's Chou Dynasty.

Snaring the Tiger | Taiko | "Be a Friendly Neighbor"