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Enemy of the Buddha

On the first night after their return to Kyoto, the officers and men of the rear guard, who had narrowly escaped with their lives, could only think of one thing: sleep.

After reporting to Nobunaga, Hideyoshi wandered off in a daze.

Sleep. Sleep.

The following morning he opened his eyes for just a moment, and then went straight back to sleep. Around noon he was awakened by a servant and ate some rice gruel, but in a state between waking and dreaming, he only knew that it tasted good.

"Are you going back to sleep?" the servant asked in amazement.

Hideyoshi finally woke up two days later in the evening, feeling totally disoriented. "What day is it?"

"It's the second," the samurai on duty answered.

The second, he thought as he wearily dragged himself out of the room. Then Lord Nobunaga must have recovered, too.

Nobunaga had rebuilt the Imperial Palace and constructed a new residence for the shogun, but he himself did not have a mansion in the capital. Whenever he came to Kyoto, he would stay in a temple, and his retainers would lodge in neighboring branch temples.

Hideyoshi left the temple in which he was billeted, and looked up at the stars for the first time in several days. It's almost summer, he thought. And then he realized, I'm still alive! He felt extraordinarily happy. Although it was late at night, he asked for an audience with Nobunaga. He was shown in immediately, as though Nobunaga had been waiting for him.

Hideyoshi, you must be pleased about something," Nobunaga said. "You've got an extraordinary smile on your face."

"How could I not be pleased?" he answered. "Before this, I wasn't aware of what a blessed thing life is. But having escaped from near death, I realize that I don't need anything more than life. Just by looking at this lamp or at your face, my lord, I know that I'm alive, and that I am blessed far more than I deserve. But how are you feeling, my lord?"

"I can't help feeling disappointed. This is the first time I've ever felt the shame and bitterness of defeat."

"Has anyone ever accomplished great things without experiencing defeat?"

"Well, can you see that on my face, too? The horse's belly only has to be whipped once. Hideyoshi, get yourself ready for a trip."

"A trip?"

"We're going back to Gifu." Just when Hideyoshi was congratulating himself for being one step ahead of Nobunaga, his lord struck out into the lead. There were several good reasons for him to get back to Gifu as quickly as possible.

Although Nobunaga was reputed to be a dreamer, he was also known to be a strong-willed man of action. That night Nobunaga, Hideyoshi, and an escort of less than three hundred men left the capital with the swiftness of a sudden storm. But even with such speed, their departure could not be kept secret.

The short night had not yet dawned when the group reached Otsu. Splitting the predawn darkness, the report of a gun echoed in the mountains. The horses reared in frenzy. Retainers galloped forward, anxious for Nobunaga, while at the same time they looked for the sniper.

Nobunaga appeared not to have noticed the shot; in fact he had already galloped ahead more than fifty yards. From that distance he turned and shouted, "Let him be!"

Because Nobunaga was alone, far ahead of the others, they left the would-be assassin behind. When Hideyoshi and the other generals overtook Nobunaga and asked if he had been wounded, Nobunaga slowed his horse and held up his sleeve, showing a small hole through the loose cloth. His only comment was, "Our fate is decreed by heaven."

It was later discovered that the man who had shot at Nobunaga was a warrior-monk famous for his marksmanship.

"Our fate is decreed by heaven," Nobunaga had said, but this did not mean he waited passively for heaven's will. He knew how rival warlords envied him. The world had not thought much of him when he had spread his wings over Owari and Mino from his small domain, which covered no more than two districts of Owari. But now that he had taken center stage and was giving orders from Kyoto, the powerful provincial clans were suddenly ill at ease. Clans with whom he had no quarrel whatsoeverthe Otomo and Shimazu of Kyushu, the Mori of the western provinces, the Chosokabe of Shikoku, and even the Uesugi and Date in the far northall looked upon his successes with hostility.

But the real danger was from his own in-laws. It was clear that Takeda Shingen of Kai was no longer to be trusted; neither could he be negligent about the Hojo; and Asai Nagamasa of Odani, who had married his sister Oichi, was living proof of the weakness of political alliances based on marriage. When Nobunaga had invaded the north, his main enemythe man who had suddenly allied himself with the Asakura and threatened his retreatwas none other than this Asai Nagamasa, proving again that the ambitions of men cannot be trammeled by a woman's hair.

Everywhere he looked, there were enemies. The remnants of the Miyoshi and Matsunaga clans were still troublesome adversaries lying in ambush, and the warrior-monks of the Honganji were fanning the flames of rebellion against him everywhere. It seemed that, as he took power, the whole country was turning against him, so it was prudent for him to return quickly to Gifu. If he had idled in Kyoto for another month, there might have been no castle or clan to return to, but he reached Gifu Castle without incident.

"Guard! Guard!" The short night had not yet ended, but Nobunaga was calling from his bedroom. It was about the time the cuckoo's song could be heard over Inabayama, not an unusual time for Nobunaga to wake up and unexpectedly give orders. His night watch was used to it, but it seemed that whenever they relaxed their guard a little, Nobunaga would take them by surprise.

"Yes, my lord?" This time, the guard was quick.

"Call a war council. Tell Nobumori to summon the general staff immediately," Nobunaga said on his way out of his bedroom.

The pages and attendants ran after him. They were still half asleep and could hardly tell whether it was midnight or dawn. Certainly it was still dark, and the stars shone brightly in the night sky.

"I'm going to light the lamps," said an attendant. "Please wait just a moment, my lord."

But Nobunaga had already stripped. He stepped into the bathroom and began to pour water over himself and wash.

In the outer citadel, the confusion was even worse. Men like Nobumori, Tadatsugu, and Hideyoshi were in the castle, but many of the other generals had been staying in the castle town. As messengers were sent to summon them, the hall was cleaned and the lamps lit.

At length the generals were all gathered for the war council. The white lamplight shone on Nobunaga's face. He had decided to ride out at dawn against Asai Nagamasa of Odani. Although this meeting was meant to be a war council, its purpose was not the airing of different opinions or discussion. Nobunaga simply wanted to hear if anyone had any suggestions as to tactics.

When it was clear just how determined Nobunaga was, a deathly silence fell over the assembled generals. It was as though something had struck them deep in their hearts. Nobunaga's relationship with Nagamasa, they all knew, was more than that of a political ally. Nobunaga was truly fond of his brother-in-law, and he had invited him to Kyoto and personally shown him the sights.

If Nobunaga had not told Nagamasa of his attack on the Asakura clan, it was because he knew that the Asai and Asakura were bound by an alliance much older than the Asai clan's ties with the Oda. Thinking of his brother-in-law's delicate position, he tried his best to keep him neutral.

However, once Nagamasa knew that Nobunaga's army was deep in enemy territory, Nagamasa had betrayed Nobunaga, cut off his retreat, and forced him into an inevitable defeat.

Nobunaga had been thinking about his brother-in-law's punishment ever since his return to Kyoto. A secret report had been handed to Nobunaga in the dead of night. It informed him that Sasaki Rokkaku had fomented a peasant uprising with the support of Kannonji Castle and the warrior-monks. Taking advantage of the chaos and acting in concert with the Asai, Rokkaku was aiming to crush Nobunaga with a single blow.

When the war council had ended, Nobunaga went into the garden with his generals and pointed to the sky. In the distance the flames of the insurrection turned the sky a brilliant red.

On the following day, the twentieth, Nobunaga led his army into Omi. He crushed the warrior-monks and broke through the defenses of Asai Nagamasa and Sasaki Rokkaku. Nobunaga's army moved with the speed of a storm sweeping the clouds from the plain, and struck with the suddenness of lightning.

On the twenty-first, the Oda were pressing in on the main castle of the Asai at Odani. They had already laid siege to Yokoyama Castle, a branch castle of Odani. For the enemy, it was a complete rout. They had had no time to prepare themselves, and their resistance crumbled, giving them no time to set up new positions.

The Ane River was only a few feet deep, so, although it was quite broad, a man could ford it on foot. Its clear waters, which flowed from the mountains of eastern Asai, were, however, so cold that they cut into the body even in summer.

It was just before dawn. Nobunaga, leading an army of twenty-three thousand men, with a further six thousand Tokugawa troops, deployed his men along the east riverbank.

From about midnight on the previous day, the combined forces of the Asai and the Asakura numbering about eighteen thousandhad gradually moved in from Mount Oyose. Hiding behind the houses along the west bank of the river, they waited for the right moment to attack. The night was still dark, and only the sound of the water could be heard.

"Yasumasa," Ieyasu called one of his commanders, "the enemy is approaching the riverbank thick and fast."

"It's difficult to see anything through this mist, but I can hear the horses neighing in the distance."

"Any news from downstream?"

"Nothing so far."

"Which side is heaven going to bless? Half a day should see the turning point."

"Half a day? I wonder if it will take that long."

"Don't underestimate them," Ieyasu said as he walked into the woods at the river's edge. Here were his own silent troops, the flower of Nobunaga's army. The atmosphere in the forest was one of total desolation. The soldiers had spread out into a firing line, crouching in the undergrowth. The spearmen grasped their weapons and looked out over the river, where still nothing stirred.

Would it be life or death today?

The eyes of the soldiers shone. Untouched by life or death, they silently imagined the outcome of the battle. Not one looked as if he had confidence that he would see the sky again that evening.

Accompanied by Yasumasa, Ieyasu walked along the line, his clothes making only a slight rustling noise. No light shone, except for the smoldering fuse cords of the muskets. A man sneezedperhaps a soldier with a cold, whose nose was itchy from the smoke of the fuses. Still, it made the other soldiers tense.

The surface of the water began to turn white, and a line of red clouds silhouetted the branches of the trees on Mount Ibuki.

"The enemy!" a man shouted.

The officers around Ieyasu immediately signaled the gunners to hold their fire. On the other bank just a little downstream, a mixed corps of mounted samurai and foot soldiers, numbering perhaps twelve or thirteen hundred, was fording the river at a diagonal. Kicking up a white spray with their feet, they looked like a white gale crossing the river.

The formidable vanguard of the Asai was ignoring the Oda vanguard and even the second and third lines of defense, and was preparing to strike at the center of the Oda camp.

Ieyasu's men swallowed hard and exclaimed all at once, "Isono Tamba!"

"Tamba's regiment!"

The famous Isono Tamba, the pride of the Asai clan, was a worthy opponent. His crested banners could be seen fluttering through the splashes and spray.


Was it covering fire for the enemy, or the rifles of their own troops? No, the firing had begun from both banks at the same moment. Echoing over the water, the noise was almost deafening. The clouds began to part, and the cloudless summer sky displayed its hue. Just then the second Oda line, under Sakai Tadatsugu, and Ikeda Shonyu's third line suddenly struck out into the river.

"Don't let the enemy put one foot on our side! Don't let a single one of them return to their own!" shouted the officers.

The Sakai corps attacked the enemy's flank. In an instant, hand-to-hand fighting broke out in the middle of the river. Spear clashed against spear, sword rang against sword. Men grappled and tumbled from horses, and the waters of the river ran with blood.

Tamba's regiment of crack troops pushed Sakai's second line back. Shouting, "We have been shamed!" so loudly that he could be heard on both sides of the river, Sakai's son, Kyuzo, dashed into the middle of the fight. He achieved a glorious death in battle, with more than one hundred of his men.

With unstoppable force, Tamba's soldiers broke through the third Oda line. Ikeda's spearmen readied their spears and tried to break the enemy onslaught, but they could do nothing.

Now it was Hideyoshi's turn to be amazed. He muttered to Hanbei, "Have you ever seen such intimidating men?" But even Hanbei had no tactics to deal with this attack. This was not the only reason for Hideyoshi's defeat. Within his line were a great number men who had surrendered at enemy castles. These new "allies" had been put under Hideyoshi's command, but they had once received their stipends from the Asai and Asakura. Quite naturally, their spears were rarely accurate, and when they were ordered to charge the enemy, they were more likely to get in the way of Hideyoshi's own men.

Thus Hideyoshi's line was defeated, and the Oda's fifth and sixth lines were also soundly beaten. In all, Tamba routed eleven of the thirteen Oda lines. At this point the Tokugawa forces upstream crossed the river, overrunning the enemy on the opposite bank, and gradually they made their way downstream. Looking back, however, they saw that Tamba's soldiers were already pressing close on Nobunaga's headquarters.

With the yell, "Attack their flank!" the Tokugawa soldiers leaped back into the river. Tamba's soldiers thought these men were their own allies entering the river from the west bank, even when they drew near. With Kazumasa in the lead, the Tokugawa samurai cut into Isono Tamba's regiment.

Suddenly aware of the enemy, Tamba yelled himself hoarse, ordering his men to fall back. A warrior, brandishing a dripping spear, struck him from the side. Tamba collapsed in a spray of water. Grasping the shaft of the spear that had pierced his side, he attempted to get up, but the Tokugawa warrior had no intention of letting him do so. A sword flashed over Tamba's head and crashed down on his iron helmet. The sword shattered into pieces. Tamba stood up, the water around his feet turning into a bright red pool of blood. Three men surrounded Tamba, stabbing and hacking him to pieces.

"The enemy!" the retainers around Nobunaga shouted. They ran from the headquarters to the riverbank with their spears ready.

Takenaka Kyusaku, Hanbei's younger brother, was in Hideyoshi's regiment, but in the confusion of battle he had become separated from his unit. Pursuing the enemy, he was now close to Nobunaga's headquarters.

What? he thought in amazement. The enemy's here already? As he looked around, he spotted a samurai coming around from the back of the enclosure. The man, whose armor was not that of a common foot soldier, lifted the curtain and looked stealthily inside.

Kyusaku flung himself at the man and grabbed his leg, which was covered by chain mail and armor. The warrior might be one of their own men, and Kyusaku did not want to kill an ally by mistake. The samurai turned without a hint of surprise. He looked like an officer of the Asai army.

"Friend or foe?" Kyusaku asked.

"Foe, of course!" the man yelled, working his spear through his hands and moving in to strike.

"Who are you? Do you have a name worth repeating?"

"I am Maenami Shinpachiro of the Asai. I've come to take Lord Nobunaga's head. You disgusting runt! Who are you?"

"I am Takenaka Kyusaku, a retainer of Kinoshita Hideyoshi. Come and try me!"

"Well, well. Takenaka Hanbei's little brother."

"That's right!" The instant he said this, Kyusaku yanked away Shinpachiro's spear and threw it back at his chest. But before Kyusaku could draw his sword, Shinpachiro grabbed him. Both men fell to the ground, Kyusaku on the bottom. He kicked himself free, but he was once again pinned down beneath his enemy. At that moment he bit on Shinpachiro's finger, making him loosen his grip a little.

Now was his chance! Giving Shinpachiro a shove, Kyusaku was able to free himself at last. In an instant his hand found his dagger and struck at Shinpachiro's throat. The point of the dagger missed the man's throat, but sliced across Shinpachiro's face from his chin to his nose, piercing his eye.

"An enemy of my comrade!" a voice shouted out from behind. There was no time cut off the dead man's head. Leaping up, Kyusaku immediately exchanged blows with a new adversary.

Kyusaku knew that several of the Asai suicide corps had made their way into the area, and this man now showed his back and ran. Chasing him, Kyusaku struck at his knee with his sword.

As he fell on top of the wounded man and straddled him, Kyusaku shouted, "Do you have a name worth saying? Yes or no?"

"I'm Kobayashi Hashuken. I have nothing to say except that I regret falling into the hands of a low-class samurai like you before getting close to Lord Nobunaga."

"Where is the Asai's bravest man, Endo Kizaemon? You're an Asai, you must know.

"I have no idea."

"Speak! Spit it out!"

"I don't know!"

"Then I've no use for you!" Kyusaku cut off Hashuken's head. He ran off, his eyes blazing. He was determined not to let Endo Kizaemon's head fall to someone else's hand. Before the battle, Kyusaku had boasted that he would have Kizaemon's head. He now ran off in the direction of the riverbank where countless bodies lay among the grass and pebblesa riverbank of death.

There, among the others, was a corpse whose bloodied face was hidden by a tangle hair. Bluebottle flies buzzed in a swarm at Kyusaku's feet. Kyusaku turned around wh he stepped on the foot of the corpse whose face was hidden by its hair. There was nothing wrong with that, but it gave him a strange sensation. He looked around suspiciously, and in that instant the corpse leaped up and dashed off in the direction of Nobunaga's headquarters.

"Protect Lord Nobunaga! The enemy is coming!" Kyusaku screamed.

Seeing Nobunaga, the enemy samurai was about to jump over a low embankment when he stepped on the cord of his sandal and tripped. Kyusaku leaped on top of the man and quickly subdued him. As he was dragged off by Kyusaku to Nobunaga's headquarters, the man roared out, "Cut off my head quickly! Right now! Don't heap shame a warrior!"

When another prisoner who was being led away saw the screaming man, he blurted out, "Master Kizaemon! They took even you alive?"

This extraordinary man who had pretended to be dead and whom Kyusaku had captured was the very one he had been seekingthe fierce Asai warrior Endo Kizaemon.

At first the Oda army had been near collapse. But as the Tokugawa forces under Ieyasu struck the enemy flank, the acute angle of the enemy attack was deflected. However, the enemy had also had a second and third line of attack. As they pushed and then retreated, trampling through the waters of the Ane River, both the enemy and Nobunaga troops were breaking their sword guards and shattering their spears. The battle was such chaos that no one could tell who was going to win.

Don't be distracted! Just strike straight into Nobunaga's camp!"

From the very beginning, this had been the objective of the second line of Asai troops. But they had driven through too far and had actually come out to the rear of the Oda troops. The Tokugawa forces had also broken through to the opposite bank with the cry, "Don't be bested by the Oda troops!" and had advanced toward the camp of Asakura Kagetake.

Finally, however, the Tokugawa had advanced too far from their allies and were surrounded by the enemy. The battle was in total chaos. Just as a fish cannot see the river in which it swims, no one was able to grasp the entire situation. Each soldier was simply fighting for his life. As soon as a man struck down one of the enemy, he immediately looked up to see the face of another.

From above, it would have looked as though both armies, forced into the waters of the Ane River, had entered a giant vortex. And, as might be expected, Nobunaga coolly observed the situation in exactly that way. Hideyoshi also took a general view of the battle. He sensed that this very instant would decide either victory or defeat. The turning point was a very subtle moment.

Nobunaga was striking the ground with a staff, yelling, "The Tokugawa have struck in deep! Don't leave them there alone! Somebody go to the aid of Lord Ieyasu!" But the troops on both right and left did not have enough remaining strength. Nobunaga was shouting in vain. Then, from a stand of trees on the northern bank, a single corps of men dashed directly through the chaos to the opposite bank, kicking up a pure-white spray of water.

Hideyoshi, while he had not received Nobunaga's orders, had also understood the situation. Nobunaga saw the standard with Hideyoshi's golden gourd and thought, Ah, good! Hideyoshi has done it.

Wiping the sweat from his eyes with his gauntlet, Nobunaga said to his pages, "A moment like this won't come again. Go down to the river and see what you can do."

Ranmaru and the otherseven the youngestall ran at the enemy, each one vying to be first. The Tokugawa, who had pushed in so deeply, were quite definitely in trouble, but in this game of battlefield chess, the astute Ieyasu was the one piece that had been placed on the vital point.

Nobunaga is not likely to let this one piece die, Ieyasu told himself. Ittetsu's men followed Hideyoshi's. Finally, Ikeda Shonyu's men poured in. Suddenly the tide of the battle had changed, and the Oda were winning. Asakura Kagetake's forces retreated more than three leagues, and Asai Nagamasa's forces fled hurriedly toward Odani Castle.

From that point on, it was a battle of pursuit. The Asakura were chased to Mount Oyose, and Asai Nagamasa retreated behind the walls of Odani Castle. Nobunaga dealt with the aftermath of the battle in two days, and on the third day he led his army back to Gifu. He had moved with the speed of the cuckoo that nightly flew over the Ane River, which now washed the bodies of the dead on its shores.

* * *

A great man is not made simply by innate ability. Circumstances must give him the opportunity. These circumstances are often the malevolent conditions that surround a man and work on his character, almost as if they were trying to torture him. When his enemies have taken every form possible, both seen and unseen, and ally themselves to confront him with every hardship imaginable, he encounters the real test of greatness.

Directly after the battle of the Ane River, Nobunaga returned home with such speed that the generals of his various units asked themselves if something had happened in Gifu. Quite naturally, the strategies of the field staff are not understood by the rank and file. A rumor now circulated among the soldiers that Hideyoshi had strongly advocated taking the main castle of the Asai at Odani and putting an end to them once and for all, but Lord Nobunaga had not agreed. Instead, the very next day he had made Hideyoshi commander of Yokoyama Castle, a branch castle that the enemy had abandoned, while he himself withdrew to Gifu.

The soldiers were not the only ones who did not understand the reasons behind Nobunaga's sudden return to Gifu. Very likely his closest retainers did not understand their lord's real intentions, either. The only man who might have had some idea was Ieyasu, whose impartial eye never strayed for long from Nobunaga: not too close at hand, but too distant; without excessive emotion, but not too coolly.

On the day Nobunaga left, Ieyasu returned to Hamamatsu. On the way, he said to his generals, "As soon as Lord Nobunaga takes off his bloodstained armor, he'll dress himself for the capital and whip his horse straight for Kyoto. His mind is like a restless young colt."

In the end, that is exactly what happened. By the time Ieyasu arrived at Hamamatsu Nobunaga was already on his way to Kyoto. Which is not to say that there was anything going on in the capital at the time. What Nobunaga feared was something that he could not seea phantom enemy.

Nobunaga had disclosed his concern to Hideyoshi. "What do you think my biggest worry is? I imagine you know, don't you?"

Hideyoshi cocked his head to one side and said, "Well, now. It isn't the Takeda of kai, who are always lying in wait at your rear, or the Asai or Asakura clan. Lord Ieyasu someone to be careful of, but he's an intelligent man and so shouldn't be feared altogether. The Matsunaga and Miyoshi are like flies, and there are plenty of rotting things for them to swarm around, as it's their nature to go after the dying. Your only really troublesome enemies are the warrior-monks of the Honganji, but they don't trouble my lord much yet, I think. That only leaves one person."

"And who is he? Speak up."

"He's neither enemy nor ally. You have to show him respect, but if that's all you do, you might quickly become trapped. He's a two-faced apparitionoh, dear, I've spoken improperly. Aren't we talking about the shogun?"

"Right. But don't mention this to anyone." Nobunaga's anxiety was about this man, who was indeed truly neither friend nor foe: Yoshiaki, the shogun.

Yoshiaki had shed tears of gratitude over Nobunaga's past favors to him, and even said that he thought of Nobunaga as his own father. So why Yoshiaki? Duplicity is always found hidden away in places where one would least imagine it to be. Yoshiakis and Nobunaga's characters were not matched at all; their educations were different, so were their beliefs. As long as Nobunaga had helped him, Yoshiaki treated Nobunaga as a benefactor. But once he had warmed the shogun's seat a little, his gratitude turned to loathing.

"The bumpkin is annoying," Yoshiaki was heard to say. He began to avoid Nobunaga, and even regarded him as a stumbling block, whose authority exceeded his own. He was not, however, brave enough to bring matters out into the open and fight him. Yoshiaki's nature was completely negative. And, opposed to Nobunaga's positiveness, it played itself out in secrecy to the very end.

In a secluded room deep within Nijo Palace, the shogun conversed with an emissary from the warrior-monks of the Honganji.

"Abbot Kennyo resents him too? It's not surprising that Nobunaga's unparalleled arrogance and high-handedness anger the abbot."

The messenger concluded before leaving, "Please make sure that everything I've said is kept secret. At the same time, perhaps it would be advisable to send secret messages to Kai and to the Asai and Asakura clans so as not to miss this opportunity."

On the very same day, in another part of the palace, Nobunaga was waiting for Yoshiaki in order to announce his arrival in the capital. Yoshiaki composed himself, assumed an air of complete innocence, and went into the reception room to meet with Nobunaga.

"I hear that the battle of the Ane River was a splendid victory for you. Yet another ex-ample of your military prowess. Congratulations! This is a happy event indeed."

Nobunaga was unable to suppress a bitter smile at this flattery, and he replied with some irony, "No, no. It was thanks to Your Excellency's virtue and influence that we were able to fight so bravely, knowing there would be no unhappy events in the aftermath."

Yoshiaki turned slightly red, blushing like a woman. "Put your mind at ease. The capital is at peace, as you can see. But have you heard of some untoward event? After the battle, you came here with such frightening speed."

"No, I came to pay my respects at the completion of the rebuilding of the Imperial Palace, to look after affairs of state, and, of course, to inquire after Your Excellency's health."

"Ah, is that so?" Yoshiaki felt slightly relieved. "Well, you can see that I'm healthy and that the government is moving along without any problems, so you shouldn't be so anxious and come here so often. But come, let me treat you to a banquet to congratulate you officially upon your triumphal return."

"I must refuse, Your Excellency," Nobunaga said, waving off the suggestion. "I still haven't sent words of thanks to my officers and men. I wouldn't feel quite right about accepting an invitation to an extravagant banquet on my own. Let us postpone it until the next time I'm in attendance on Your Excellency."

With this, he took his leave. When he returned to his lodgings, Akechi Mitsuhide was waiting to submit his report.

"A monk who appeared to be a messenger from Abbot Kennyo of the Honganji was seen leaving the shogun's palace. These recent comings and goings between the warrior-monks and the shogun are pretty suspicious, don't you think?"

Nobunaga had appointed Mitsuhide commander of the Kyoto garrison. In this capacity, he meticulously recorded all visitors to Nijo Palace.

Nobunaga gave the report a quick look and said only, "Very good." He was disgusted that this shogun was so difficult to save, but he also felt that Yoshiaki's behavior s really a blessing. That night he called in the officials in charge of the construction of the Imperial Palace, and as he listened to the reports on the progress of the rebuilding, his mood brightened.

The next morning he rose early and inspected the nearly completed buildings. Then, after paying his respects to the Emperor at the old palace, he returned to his lodgings as the sun was coming up, ate breakfast, and announced that he was leaving the capital.

When Nobunaga had arrived in Kyoto, he had been dressed in a kimono. On his return, however, he wore armor, because he was not returning to Gifu. Once again he made a tour of the battlefield at the Ane River, met with Hideyoshi, who was stationed at Yokoyama Castle, flew about giving orders to the units left in various places, and then laid siege to Sawayama Castle.

Having made a clean sweep of his enemies, Nobunaga returned to Gifu, but for him and his men there was still no time to rest from the fatigue of the lingering summer heat.

It was in Gifu that urgent letters reached Nobunaga from Hosokawa Fujitaka, who was at Nakanoshima Castle in Settsu, and from Akechi Mitsuhide in Kyoto. These letters informed him that in Noda, Fukushima, and Nakanoshima in Settsu, the Miyoshi had more than a thousand men building fortresses. These had been joined by the warrior-monks of the Honganji and their followers. Both Mitsuhide and Fujitaka stressed that there was no time to delay, and asked for Nobunaga's orders.

The main temple of the Honganji had been built during a period of civil disorder and confusion. It had been constructed to withstand the disturbances of the day: outside its stone walls was a deep moat, spanned by a fortified bridge. Although the Honganji was a temple, its construction was that of a castle. To be a monk here meant to be a warrior, and this place had no fewer warrior-monks than Nara and Mount Hiei. Very likely there was not a single priest living in this ancient Buddhist fortress who did not hate the up-start Nobunaga. They accused him of being an enemy of Buddhism who flouted tradition, a destroyer of culture, and a devil who knew no boundsa beast among men.

When, instead of negotiating, Nobunaga had confronted the Honganji and forced them to cede some of their land to him, he had gone too far. The pride of the Buddhist fortress was strong, and the privileges it enjoyed were ancient. Reports from the west and other regions began to trickle in that the Honganji was arming itself. The temple had bought two thousand guns, the number of warrior-monks had increased manyfold, and new defensive moats were being dug around the fortress.

Nobunaga had anticipated that they would ally themselves with the Miyoshi clan, and that the weak shogun would be seduced to their side. He had also expected that malicious propaganda would be spread among the common people, and that this would most likely set off a popular uprising against him.

When he received urgent messages from Kyoto and Osaka, he was not particularly surprised. Rather, he was more fully resolved to take the opportunity, and quickly went to Settsu himself, stopping in Kyoto on the way.

I humbly request that Your Excellency accompany my army," he told the shogun. Your presence will be an inspiration to my troops, and will speed the quelling of the insurrection."

Yoshiaki was naturally reluctant, but he could not refuse. And although it seemed that Nobunaga was taking along a useless hanger-on, it benefited him to have the shield of the shogun's name as one more ploy to sow dissension among his enemies.

* * *

The area between the Kanzaki and Nakatsu rivers in Naniwa was a vast marshy plain, dotted with occasional patches of farmland. Nakajima was divided into the northern and southern districts. The fortress in the north was held by the Miyoshi, and the small castie in the south by Hosokawa Fujitaka. The battle was centered in this area, and continued violently from the beginning to the middle of the Ninth Month, now with a victory, now with a defeat. It was open warfare, with the new style of both small and large firearms in use.

In the middle of the Ninth Month, the Asai and Asakura, who had remained barricaded in their mountain casties, meditating on the bitterness of defeat and watching for Nobunaga to make a mistake, took up arms, crossed Lake Biwa, and set up their camps on the beaches at Otsu and Karasaki. One unit went to the Buddhist stronghold of Mount Hiei. For the first time, all the warrior-monks of the various sects were united against Nobunaga.

Their common complaint was, "Nobunaga has arbitrarily confiscated our lands and trampled our honor and the mountain that has been inviolate since the time of Saint Dengyo!"

There were close ties between Mount Hiei and the Asai and Asakura clans. The three agreed to cut off Nobunaga's retreat. The Asakura army moved out from the mountains north of the lake, while the Asai army crossed the lake and went ashore. The disposition of their troops indicated that they intended to grip the throat of Otsu and enter Kyoto. Then, waiting at the Yodo River, they would move in concert with the Honganji and destroy Nobunaga in a single offensive.

Nobunaga had been fighting hard for several days, confronting the warrior-monks and the large Miyoshi army from the fortress at Nakajima in the swamps between the Kanzaki and Nakatsu rivers. On the twenty-second, an alarming but cryptic report that a calamity was approaching from the rear reached his ears.

The details were not yet available, but Nobunaga inferred that when they came they would not be pleasant. He ground his teeth, wondering what this calamity might be. Calling Katsuie, he ordered him to take charge of the rear guard. As for himself he said, "I'm going to pull back immediately and crush the Asai, the Asakura, and Mount Hiei."

"Shouldn't we wait one more night for the next detailed report?" Katsuie said, trying to stop him.

"Why? Now is the time when the world is going to change!" That said, nothing was going to change his mind. He rode hard to Kyoto, changing horses more than once.

"My lord!"

"What a tragedy!"

Crying bitterly, a number of retainers crowded in front of his horse. "Your younger brother, Lord Nobuharu, and Mori Yoshinari met with heroic deaths at Uji, struck down after two days and two nights of bitter fighting."

The first man could not go on, so one of his companions continued, his voice quavering, "The Asai and Asakura and their allies, the monks, had a great army of over twenty thousand, so their strength could not be withstood."

Seemingly unmoved, Nobunaga replied, "Don't just read the names of dead men who are never going to come back at a time like thiswhat I want to hear is whats going on now! How far has the enemy advanced? Where is the front line? I suppose none of you knows that. Is Mitsuhide here? If he's at the front, call him back immediately. Call Mitsuhide!"

A forest of banners surrounded the Mii Templethe headquarters of the Asai and Asakura. The day before, the generals had inspected the severed head of Nobunagas younger brother, Nobuharu, before a large crowd. After that, they had examined the heads of other famous warriors of the Oda clan, one after another, until they were almost bored.

"That avenges our defeat at the Ane River. I feel a lot better now," one man muttered.

"Not until we've seen Nobunaga's head!" another man said.

Then someone laughed in a hoarse voice, thick with the accent of the north. "We've as good as seen it already. Nobunaga's got the Honganji and the Miyoshi in front of him, and us behind. Where is he going to run? He's a fish in a net!"

They inspected the heads for well over a day, until they became sick of the smell of blood. When night fell, the sake jars were carried into the headquarters, helping to raise the spirits of the victors. As the liquor was ladled out and drunk, the discussion turned to strategy.

"Should we enter Kyoto, or seize the bottleneck of Otsu and take him by gradually shrinking the encirclement and drawing him in like a big fish in a net?" one general suggested.

"We should definitely advance to the capital, and annihilate Nobunaga at the Yodo River and in the fields of Kawachi!" another countered.

"That's no good."

If one man advocated one tactic, another immediately opposed him. For although the Asai and Asakura clans were united in their aims, when it came to a discussion within the upper command, each man felt that he had to demonstrate his own shallow knowledge and uphold his reputation. The result was that nothing was decided until midnight.

Tired of the fruitless discussion, one of the Asai generals went outside. Looking up at the sky, he commented, "The sky has turned awfully red, hasn't it?"

Our men have set fire to the peasants' houses from Yamashina to Daigo," a sentry responded.

"What for? It's futile to burn that area, isn't it?"

Not at all. We have to contain the enemy," the Asakura general who had given the order countered. "The Oda garrison in Kyoto under Akechi Mitsuhide is tearing aroud as if its members were eager to die. And we, too, should show our own ferocity."

Dawn had come. Otsu was the crossroads of the major routes to the capital, but there was not one traveler or packhorse to be seen. Then one mounted man rode by, followed moments later by two or three others. These were military messengers, riding from the direction of the capital, galloping to the Mii Temple as if their lives depended on it.

"Nobunaga is almost at Keage. The troops of Akechi Mitsuhide are in the vanguard, and they are smashing through with unstoppable force."

The generals could hardly believe their ears.

"Surely it's not Nobunaga in person! There's no way he could have withdrawn from the battlefield at Naniwa so quickly."

"Two or three hundred of our men in Yamashina have already been killed. The enemy is on the rampage, and, as always, Nobunaga himself is giving the orders. He's riding like a mounted demon or god, and he's coming right this way!"

Both Asai Nagamasa and Asakura Kagetake blanched. Nagamasa felt this especially keenly; Nobunaga was his wife's brother, a man who had formerly treated him kindly. The show of Nobunaga's fury made him shudder.

"Retreat! Fall back to Mount Hiei!" Nagamasa blurted out.

Asakura Kagetake picked up the urgent tone of his ally's voice. "Back to Mount Hiei!" At the same time, he screamed orders to his retainers. "Set fire to the peasants' houses along the road! No, wait until our vanguard has gone through. Then set the fires! Set the fires!"

The hot wind scorched Nobunaga's brow. Sparks had ignited his horse's mane and the tassels on his saddle. From Yamashina to Otsu, the burning beams of the peasants' houses along the road and the flames that seemed to swirl through the air could not prevent him from reaching his destination. He had become the flames of a torch himself, and his men, as they galloped on, were a horde of fire.

"This battle will be a memorial service for Lord Nobuharu."

"Did they think we wouldn't avenge the spirits of our dead comrades?"

But when they came to the Mii Temple, there was not an enemy soldier to be seen. They had climbed Mount Hiei with all the speed of flight.

Looking up at the mountain, they saw that the huge enemy army of more than twenty thousand men, in addition to the warrior-monks, stretched as far as Suzugamine, Aoyamadake, and Tsubogasadani. Their fluttering banners almost seemed to say, We haven't run away. This battle array will speak for itself from here on.

Nobunaga looked at the towering mountain and thought, It's here. It's not the mountain that is my enemy; it's the mountain's special privileges. He saw it in a new light now. From ancient times, through the reigns of successive emperors, how much had the tradition and special privileges of the mountain troubled and pained the country's rulers and the common people? Was there even the faintest glimmer of the real Buddha on the mountain?

When the Tendai sect had been introduced to Japan from China, Saint Dengyo, who had built the first temple on Mount Hiei, had chanted, "May the light of the merciful Buddha give its divine protection to the timbers that we raise up in this place." Was the lamp of the Law lit on this holy peak so that the monks could force their petitions on the Emperor in Kyoto? Was it so that they could interfere with government and grow ever more powerful with special privileges? Was it so they could ally themselves with warlords, conspire with laymen, and throw the country into confusion? Was the lamp lit so that the Law of Buddha might be accoutered with armor and helmet, and line the entire mountain with warriors' spears, guns, and war banners?

Tears of rage ran from Nobunaga's eyes. It was clear to him that this was all blasphemy. Mount Hiei had been established to protect the nation, and so had been granted special privileges. But where was the original purpose of Mount Hiei now? The main temple building, the seven shrines, the monasteries of the eastern and the western pagodas were nothing more than the barracks of armed demons in monks' robes.

All right! Nobunaga bit his lip so hard that his teeth became stained with blood. Let them call me a demon king who destroys Buddhism! The magnificent beauties of the mountain are nothing more than the false allures of an enchantress, and these armored monks are nothing more than fools. I'm going to burn them with the flames of war and let the true Buddha be called forth from these ashes!

On the same day he gave the order for the entire mountain to be surrounded. Naturally, it took several days for his army to cross the lake, pass over the mountains, and join him.

"The blood of my brother and Mori Yoshinari has not yet dried. Let their unswervingly loyal souls sleep in peace. Let their blood be like lanterns that will light up the world!"

Nobunaga knelt on the earth and folded his hands in prayer. He had made an enemy of the holy mountain and had ordered his army to surround it. Now, on a lump of earth, Nobunaga put his hands together in prayer and wept. Suddenly he saw one of his pages crying, with his hands together in the same way. It was Ranmaru, who had lost his father, Mori Yoshinari.

"Ranmaru, are you crying?"

"Please forgive me, my lord."

"I'll forgive you. But stop crying, or your father's spirit will laugh at you."

But Nobunaga's own eyes were becoming red. Ordering his camp stool moved to the top of a hill, he looked out over the disposition of the besieging troops. As far as the eye could see, the foothills of Mount Hiei were filled with the banners of his own men.

Half of the month passed by. The siege of the mountainan unusual strategy for Nobunagacontinued. He had cut off the enemy's supply of provisions and was going try to starve them out. His plan was in fact already working. With an army of over twenty thousand men, the granaries of the mountain had quickly been emptied. They had already started to eat the bark off the trees.

Winter set in, and the cold weather on the mountaintop caused more suffering for the defenders.

It's about the right time, don't you think?" Hideyoshi said to Nobunaga.

Nobunaga summoned a retainer, Ittetsu. Receiving Nobunaga's instructions and accompanied by four or five attendants, he climbed up Mount Hiei and met with Abbot Sonrin of the western pagoda. They met at the main temple, the warrior-monks headquarters.

Sonrin and Ittetsu had known each other for some time, and as a mark of that friendship, Ittetsu had come to persuade him to surrender.

Im not sure what your purpose was in coming here, but as a friend, I advise you not to carry this joke too far," Sonrin replied, shaking with laughter. "I agreed to meet you because I thought you had come to ask permission to surrender to us. How stupid to ask us to give up and leave! Don't you see that we are resolved to resist to the end? You must be mad to come here to talk such foolishness!"

Excitement burned in the eyes of the other warrior-monks, and they glared at Ittetsu. Having allowed the abbot his say, Ittetsu began to speak deliberately. "Saint Dengyo established this temple for the peace and preservation of the Imperial House and the tranquillity of the nation. I suspect it is not the monks' most fervent prayer to put on armor, to marshal swords and spears, to involve themselves in political strife, to ally themselves with rebel armies, or to make the people of the Empire suffer. The monks should return to being monks! Drive the Asai and Asakura from the mountain, throw down your weapons, and return to your original roles as disciples of the Buddha!" He spoke this from the very depths of his body, not giving the priests a moment to put in a single word. Moreover," he went on, "if you do not follow his orders, Lord Nobunaga is determined o burn down the main temple, the seven shrines, and the monasteries, and kill everyone on the mountain. Please give this careful thought, and put away your stubbornness. Will you turn this mountain into an inferno or sweep away the old evils and preserve the single lamp of this hallowed ground?"

Suddenly the monks with Sonrin began to shout. "This is pointless!"

"He's just wasting time!"

"Silence!" Sonrin commanded them with a sardonic smile. "That was an extremely boring, worn-out sermon, but I'm going to answer it politely. Mount Hiei is an authority into itself, and has its own principles. You are just meddling unnecessarily. Master Ittetsu, it's getting late. Leave the mountain right away."

"Sonrin, can you say this on your own authority? Why don't you meet with the men of great learning and the elders, and discuss the matter carefully?"

"The mountain is of one mind and one body. Mine is the voice of all of the temples on Mount Hiei."

"Then, no matter what"

"You fool! We'll resist military aggression to the very end. We'll protect the freedom of our traditions with our very blood! Get out of here!"

"If that's the way you want it." Ittetsu made no move to get up. "This is such a shame. How are you going to protect the infinity of Buddha's light with your blood? Just what is this freedom you're going to protect? What are these traditions? Aren't they nothing more than deceptions, convenient for the temples' prosperity? Well, those charms have no currency in the world today. Take a good look at the times. It is inevitable that greedy men, who close their eyes and obstruct the tide of the times with their selfishness, will be burned up together with the fallen leaves." With that, Ittetsu returned to Nobunaga's camp.

The cold winter wind swirled the dry leaves around the mountain peaks. There was frost both morning and night. From time to time the cold wind was spotted with snow. About this time fires began to break out on the mountain almost every night. One night, fires broke out in the fuel storehouse of the Daijo Hall; the night before that, in the Takimido. This night again, although it was still early, there was a fire in the monks' quarters of the main temple, and the bell rang furiously. Since there were many large temples in the area, the warrior-monks worked frantically to keep the flames from spreading.

The deep valleys of Mount Hiei were dark under the bright red sky.

"What confusion!" one Oda soldier said and laughed.

"This happens every night," another added. "So they must never get a chance to sleep."

The cold winter wind whistled through the branches of the trees, and the men clapped their hands. Eating their meal of dried rice, they watched the nightly conflagrations. These fires were planned by Hideyoshi, so rumor had it, and carried out by the retainers of the old Hachisuka clan.

At night the monks were distressed by fires, and during the day they were exhausted by their preparations for defense. Also, their food and fuel were running low, and they had no protection against the cold.

Winter finally came to the mountain, and the snow flew furiously. The twenty thousand defending soldiers and the several thousand warrior-monks were now drooping like frost-blighted vegetables.

It was the middle of the Twelfth Month. Without armor and wearing only a monk's robes, a representative of the mountain approached Nobunaga's camp, accompanied by four or five warrior-monks.

"I would like to speak with Lord Nobunaga," the emissary said.

When Nobunaga appeared, he saw that it was Sonrin, the abbot who had previously met with Ittetsu. He brought the message that, because the views of the main temple had changed, he would like to plead for peace.

Nobunaga refused. "What did you say to the envoy I sent before? Don't you know what shame is?" Nobunaga drew his sword.

"This is an outrage!" the priest cried. He stood up and tottered sideways as Nobunaga's sword flashed horizontally.

"Pick up his head and go back. That's my answer!"

The monks turned pale and fled back to the mountain. The snow and sleet that blew across the lake that day also blew hard into Nobunaga's camp. Nobunaga had sent Mount Hiei an unmistakable message of his intent, but thoughts of how to deal with yet another great difficulty were taxing his mind. The enemy that appeared before him was nothing more than the reflection of a fire on a wall. Throwing water on the wall was not going to put the fire out, and in the meantime the real flames would be burning at his back. This was a common admonition in the art of war, but in Nobunaga's case, he was unable to fight against the source of the fire even though he knew what it was. Just the day before, an urgent report had come from Gifu that Takeda Shingen of Kai was mobilizing his troops and was about to attack in Nobunaga's absence. And more: there had been an uprising of tens of thousands of the Honganji's followers at Nagashima, in his own province of Owari, and one of Nobunaga's relatives, Nobuoki, had been killed and his castle taken. Finally, every possible evil rumor slandering Nobunaga had been let loose among the people.

It was understandable that Takeda Shingen had broken out. Having arranged a truce with his traditional enemy of many years, the Uesugi of Echigo, Shingen had turned his attention toward the west.

"Hideyoshi! Hideyoshi!" Nobunaga called.

"Yes! I'm here!"

"Find Mitsuhide, and the two of you take this letter to Kyoto immediately."

"To the shogun?"

"Correct. In the letter, I've asked the shogun to mediate, but it would be better if he heard it from your mouth, too."

"But then why did you just decapitate the messenger from Mount Hiei?"

"Don't you understand? If I hadn't done that, do you think we could wrap up a peace conference? Even if we had succeeded in coming to terms, it's clear that they would tear up the treaty and come chasing right after us."

"You're right, my lord. I understand now."

"No matter which side you pick, no matter where the flames are, the blaze has but a single source, and there's no mistake that this is the work of that two-faced shogun, who loves to play with fire. We need explicitly to make the shogun the mediator of peace accords and withdraw as quickly as possible."

Peace negotiations were initiated. Yoshiaki came to the Mii Temple and made an effort to mollify Nobunaga and arrange a peace settlement. Delighted at what they saw as a happy opportunity, the armies of the Asai and the Asakura left for home on that very day.

On the sixteenth, Nobunaga's entire army took the land route and, crossing the floating bridge at Seta, withdrew to Gifu.

Characters and Places | Taiko | Shingen the Long-Legged