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Funeral for the Living

Red and white petals fluttered down from Gifu Castle on its high mountain peak, and fell on the roofs in the town below.

Year by year, the people's confidence in Nobunaga increaseda confidence that grew from the security of their lives. The laws were strict, but Nobunaga's words were not empty. The things he promised concerning the people's livelihood were always put into effect, and this was reflected in their wealth.

To think that a man

Has but fifty years to live under heaven.

Surely this world

Seems but a vain dream.

The people of the province knew the verses Nobunaga loved to chant when he drank. But he understood these words quite differently from the way the monks didthat the world was nothing more than a fleeting and impermanent dream. "Is there anything that will not decay?" was his favorite line, and every time he sang it, he raised the pitch of his voice. His view of life seemed to be contained in this one line. A man would not make the most of his life if he did not think deeply about it. Nobunaga knew this about life: In the end, we die. For a man of thirty-seven, the future would not be a long one. And for such a short time, his ambition was extraordinarily large. His ideals were limitless, and facing these ideals and overcoming the obstacles fulfilled him completely. Man, however, has an allotted span of life, and he could not help his feelings of regret.

Ranmaru, beat the drum."

He was going to dance today again. Earlier that day, he had entertained a messenger from Ise. He continued to drink through the afternoon.

Ranmaru brought the drum from the next room. Instead of playing it, however, he delivered a message: "Lord Hideyoshi has just arrived."

At one time it had seemed that the Asai and Asakura were going to make their move after Mikatagahara, as they had begun to wriggle and squirm repeatedly. But after Shingen had retreated, they cowered inside their own provinces and began to strengthen the defenses.

Anticipating peace, Hideyoshi had secretly left Yokoyama Castle and toured the area around the capital. None of the castle commanders anywhere, regardless of how chaotic the conditions of the country, remained locked up in their castles. Sometimes they would pretend to be gone but would really be there; at other times they would pretend to be there but would really be gone, for the way of a soldier lay in properly using the forms of truth and falsehood.

Of course, Hideyoshi had also traveled incognito on this trip, and quite likely that was also the reason he had arrived so suddenly at Gifu.

Hideyoshi?" Nobunaga had him wait in another room, and soon came in and sat down. He was in an extraordinarily good mood.

Hideyoshi was dressed with extreme simplicity, looking no different from an ordinary traveler. In this attire he prostrated himself, but then looked up and laughed. "I'll bet youre surprised."

Nobunaga looked as though he didn't understand. "About what?" he asked.

My sudden arrival."

What kind of foolishness is this? I've known you were not in Yokoyama for the last two weeks."

But you probably didn't expect me to show up here today."

Nobunaga laughed. "You think I'm blind, don't you? You probably got tired of playing around with the prostitutes in the capital, came down the Omi Road as far as some man's house in Nagahama, secretly called Oyu, and came here after a rendezvous."

Hideyoshi mumbled a reply.

You're the one who's probably surprised," Nobunaga said.

I am surprised, my lord. You see everything."

This mountain is high enough for me to look out over ten provinces at least. But

there's someone who knows your behavior in even more detail than I do. Do you have any idea who that is?"

You must have a spy trailing me."

Your wife."

You're joking! Aren't you a little intoxicated today, my lord?"

I may be drunk, but I'm hardly mistaken about what I'm saying. Your wife may be living at Sunomata, but if you think she's far away, you're making a serious mistake."

Oh, no. Well, I've come at a bad time. With your permission, I"

You can't be blamed for playing around," Nobunaga said, laughing. "There's nothing wrong with looking at the cherry blossoms from time to time. But why don't you call Nene, and the two of you get together?"

Of course."

"It's been a while since you've seen her, hasn't it?"

"Has my wife been bothering you with letters or the like?"

"Don't worry. There hasn't been anything like that, but I sympathize. And not just with your wife. Every wife has to look after the home while her husband is away at war, so even if he has only a little bit of time, a man should show his wife before anyone else that he's all right."

"As you wish, but"

"Do you refuse?"

"I do. There's been nothing untoward for a number of months, but my state of mind has not moved away from the battlefield by even a hair's breadth."

"Always the clever talker! Are you going to start wagging that tongue again? It's quite unnecessary."

"I'll retire, my lord. I'm rolling up my banners here."

Lord and retainer laughed together. After a while they started drinking and even sent Ranmaru away. Then the talk turned to a topic serious enough for them to lower their voices.

Nobunaga asked expectantly, "So how are things in the capital? I have messengers constantly going back and forth, but I want to hear what you have seen."

What Hideyoshi was about to say seemed to have to do with his expectations.

"Our seats are a little far apart. Either my lord or I should move a little closer for this."

"I'll move." Nobunaga took the sake flask and his cup and moved down from the seat of honor. "Close the sliding doors to the next room too," he ordered.

Hideyoshi sat down directly in front of Nobunaga and said, "The conditions are the same as ever. Except that, since Shingen failed to reach the capital, the shogun seems to have become more despondent. His schemes have become openly hostile to you, my lord."

"Well, I can imagine. After all, Shingen got as far as Mikatagahara, and then the shogun heard that he had withdrawn."

"Shogun Yoshiaki is a crafty politician. He fidgets about, bestowing favors on the people, and indirectly makes them fear you. He's made good propaganda out of the burning of Mount Hiei, and seems to be inciting other religious groups to rebellion."

"Not a pleasant set of circumstances."

"But it's not worth worrying about. The warrior-monks have seen what happened to Mount Hiei, and it has cooled their courage considerably."

"Hosokawa is in the capital. Did you see him?"

"Lord Hosokawa has fallen out of favor with the shogun and has confined himself to his country estate."

"He was driven away by Yoshiaki?" Nobunaga asked.

"It seems that Lord Hosokawa thought that allying with you would be the best way to preserve the shogunate. He risked his own reputation and advised Lord Yoshiaki several times."

It's apparent that Yoshiaki won't listen to anyone."

More than that, he's taking a rather extravagant view of the remaining powers of the shogunate. In a period of transition, a cataclysm separates past and future. Almost all of those who perish are those who, because of their blind attachment to the past, fail to realize that the world has changed."

Are we living through such a cataclysm?"

In fact a very dramatic event has just occurred. Word was just sent to me, but"

What kind of dramatic event?"

Well! This has still not leaked out to the world, but since it was heard by the keen ears of my agent Watanabe Tenzo, I think that it can perhaps be believed."

What is it?"

It's incredible, but the guiding star of Kai may have finally set."

What! Shingen?"

'During the Second Month, he attacked Mikawa, and one night while he was laying siege to Noda Castle, he was shot. This is what Tenzo heard."

For a moment, Nobunaga's eyes widened and he looked straight at Hideyoshi's face. If it was true that Shingen was dead, the course of the nation was going to change very quickly. Nobunaga felt as though the tiger at his back had suddenly disappeared, and he was shocked. He wanted to believe this story, but at the same time he could not. As soon as heard the news, he felt an incredible surge of relief, and an indescribable joy welled up inside of him.

"If this is true, a very gifted general has left this world," Nobunaga said. "And from now on history has been entrusted into our hands." His expression was not nearly as complex as Hideyoshi's. In fact, he looked as though he had just been served the main course at a meal.

"He was shot, but I still have no idea whether he died immediately, what were the extent of his wounds, or where he was hit. But I've heard that when they suddenly lifted the siege of Noda Castle and withdrew into Kai, they did not display the usual Takeda fighting spirit."

"I suspect not. But it doesn't matter how fierce the Kai samurai are, if they have lost Shingen."

"I received this report secretly from Tenzo on my way here, so I immediately sent him back to Kai to get confirmation."

"Has no one heard this yet in the other provinces?"

"There are no indications that anyone has. The Takeda clan will probably keep it a secret, and will make it appear that Shingen is in good health. So if some policy is promulgated in Shingen's name, the chances are nine out of ten that Shingen is dead, or at least in a serious condition."

Nobunaga nodded thoughtfully. He seemed to want to confirm this story. Suddenly he took the cup of cold sake, and sighed. To think that a man has but fifty years. But he did not feel like dancing. Reflecting on another man's death moved him far more than reflecting on his own.

"When will Tenzo return?"

"He should be back within three days."

"To Yokoyama Castle?"

"No, I told him to come straight here."

"Well then, stay here until then."

"I had planned on doing that, but if I could, I'd like to wait for your orders at an inn in the castle town."

"Why?"

"No particular reason."

"Well, how about staying in the castle? Keep me company for a while."

"Well"

"What a dullard! Do you feel constrained to be at my side?"

"No, the truth is"

"The truth is what?"

"I left a companion in that inn in the castle town, and since I imagined it would be lonely there, I promised I would go back tonight."

"Is this companion a woman?" Nobunaga was dumbfounded. The emotions that the report of Shingen's death aroused in him were so far removed from Hideyoshi's worries.

"Go to the inn tonight, but come back to the castle tomorrow. You can bring your 'companion' with you." These were Nobunaga's last words to him as he turned to go.

He had hit the nail right on the head, Hideyoshi thought on his way back to the inn. He felt as though he had been reprimanded, but this was, again, Nobunaga's grace. He was wrapping the head of the nail in an artistic decoration without the nail even noticing. The following day he went up to the castle with Oyu, but it did not cause him any embarrassment.

Nobunaga had moved to a different room and, unlike the day before, was not surrounded by the smell of sake. Sitting in front of Hideyoshi and Oyu, he looked down at them from a dais.

"Aren't you Takenaka Hanbei's sister?" he asked familiarly.

This was the first time Oyu had met Nobunaga, and here she was with Hideyoshi. She hid her face and would have liked to have sunk through the floor, but she answered with a faint voice that was a thing of beauty.

"I am honored to make your acquaintance, my lord. You have also favored my other brother, Shigeharu."

Nobunaga gazed at her, impressed. He had felt like teasing Hideyoshi a little, but now he felt guilty and became serious.

"Has Hanbei's health improved?"

"I haven't seen my brother for some time, my lord. He's busy with his military duties, but I do receive letters from time to time."

"Where are you living now?"

"At Choteiken Castle in Fuwa, where I have a slight connection."

I wonder if Watanabe Tenzo has returned yet," Hideyoshi said, trying to change the subject, but Nobunaga was an old fox and was not going to be taken in.

"What are you saying? You're getting confused. Didn't you yourself just tell me that Tenzo wouldn't return for another three days?"

Hideyoshi's face turned bright red. Nobunaga seemed to be satisfied with this. He had wanted to see him look self-conscious and troubled for a while.

Nobunaga invited Oyu to the evening's drinking party, and commented, "You haven't seen my dancing, although Hideyoshi has seen it on several occasions."

When Oyu asked to take her leave later that evening, Nobunaga did not insist on her staying, but he said bluntly to Hideyoshi, "Well then, you go too."

The couple left the castle. Soon, however, Hideyoshi returned alone somewhat flustered.

'Where is Lord Nobunaga?" he asked a page.

He has just now retired to his bedroom."

Hearing this, Hideyoshi hurried to the private apartments with an unusual lack of composure and asked the samurai attendant to convey a message.

'I must have an audience with His Lordship this evening."

Nobunaga had not yet gone to sleep, and as soon as Hideyoshi was ushered into his presence, he asked for everyone to leave the room, but although the men on night watch withdrew, Hideyoshi still looked around the room nervously.

"What is it, Hideyoshi?"

"Well, it seems there's still someone in the next room."

"It's no one to be worried about. It's just Ranmaru. He should be no problem."

"He is also a problem. I'm sorry to ask, but"

"He should go too?"

"Yes."

"Ranmaru, you leave too." Nobunaga turned and spoke toward the next room.

Ranmaru bowed silently, got up, and left.

"It should be all right now. What is this?"

"The fact is that when I took my leave and went back to town just now, I ran into Tenzo."

"What! Tenzo's back?"

"He said that he hurried across the mountains to get here, hardly knowing day from night. Shingen's death is a certainty."

"Soafter all."

"I can't give you many details, but the inner circle in Kai seems to have put on a faade of normality, beneath which a melancholy air can clearly be detected."

"Their mourning is being kept a strict secret, I'll bet."

"Of course."

"And the other provinces know nothing?"

"So far."

"So, now's the time. I assume you forbade Tenzo to speak about this."

"That's not something you have to worry about."

"But there are some unscrupulous men among the ninja. Are you sure about him?"

"He's Hikoemon's nephew, and he is loyal."

"Well, we should be extremely cautious. Give him a reward, but keep him inside the castle. It would probably be better to imprison him until this is all over."

"No, my lord."

"Why not?"

"Because if we treat a man like that, the next time the opportunity comes up, he won't feel like jeopardizing his life as he did this time. And if you cannot trust a man, but give him a reward, he might be tempted with a lot of money by the enemy someday."

"Well, then, where did you leave him?"

"As luck would have it, Oyu was just about to return to Fuwa, so I ordered him to go along as a guard for her palanquin."

"The man risked his life coming back from Kai, and you immediately ordered him to accompany your mistress? Isn't Tenzo going to resent that?"

"He went along with her happily. I may be a foolish master, but he knows me very well."

"You seem to employ people a little differently than I do."

"You can be doubly at ease, my lord. She may be a woman, but if it appears that Tenzo is about to spill any secrets to anyone, she'll protect our interests, even if she has to kill him."

"Put away your self-congratulations."

"Sorry. You what I'm like."

"That's not the point," Nobunaga said. "The Tiger of Kai has died, so we can't delay. We've got to move before Shingen's death is known by the world at large. Hideyoshi, leave tonight and hurry back to Yokoyama."

"I had planned to do that immediately, so I sent Oyu back to Fuwa, and"

"Forget the rest. I've hardly got time to sleep. We're going to mobilize at daybreak."

Nobunaga's thoughts were perfectly in line with Hideyoshi's. The opportunity they had always soughtthe time to finish up a former problemwas now at hand. The problem being, of course, the liquidation of the troublesome shogun and the old order.

Needless to say, as Nobunaga was an actor in the new age that was about to replace the old, his advance was quickly realized. On the twenty-second day of the Third Month, his army thundered out of Gifu. When it arrived at the shores of Lake Biwa, the army split into two. One half of the army was under the command of Nobunaga. He boarded ship and sailed across the lake to the west. The remaining half, composed of the troops led by Katsuie, Mitsuhide, and Hachiya, took the land route and advanced along the southern edge of the lake.

The land army ousted the anti-Nobunaga forces made up of the warrior-monks in the area between Katada and Ishiyama, and destroyed the fortifications that had been erected along the road.

The shogun's advisers quickly held a conference.

"Shall we resist?"

"Shall we sue for peace?"

These men had a big problem: they had not yet given a clear answer to the seventeen-article document that Nobunaga had sent to Yoshiaki on New Year's Day. In it, Nobunaga had itemized all his grievances against Yoshiaki.

"What audacity! I am the shogun, after all!" Yoshiaki had said angrily, conveniently forgetting that it was Nobunaga who had protected him and returned him to Nijo Palace. Why should I submit to a nonentity like Nobunaga?"

Messengers had come from Nobunaga one after another to work out peace terms, but had withdrawn without being granted audiences. Then, as a sort of response, the shogun had barricades erected on the roads that led to the capital.

The opportunity that Nobunaga had been waiting for and that Hideyoshi had been planning against was the arrival of the appropriate moment for reproving Yoshiaki for his lack of response to the Seventeen Articles. That opportunity had come sooner than either of them had imaginedhastened by Shingen's death.

In any period of history, a man on his way to ruin always holds on to the ludicrous illusion that he is not the one about to fall. Yoshiaki fell straight into that trap.

Nobunaga saw him in yet another way, saying, "We can use him, too." Thus he was handled with delicate disrespect. But the members of the worthless shogunate of this period did not know their own value, and no matter what the subject of their thoughts, intellectually speaking, their understanding did not go beyond the past. They saw only the narrow face of culture in the capital and believed that it prevailed throughout Japan. Entrusting themselves to the cramped policies of the past, they relied on the warrior-monks of the Honganji and on the many samurai warlords throughout the provinces who hated Nobunaga.

The shogun was still unaware of Shingen's death. And so he played tough. "I am the shogun, the pillar of the samurai class. I'm different from the monks on Mount Hiei. If Nobunaga were to aim his weapons at Nijo Palace, he would be branded a traitor."

His attitude indicated that he would not decline war if it was offered. Naturally, he called on the clans around the capital and sent urgent messages to the faraway Asai, the Asakura, the Uesugi, and the Takeda, setting up a showy defense.

When Nobunaga heard this, he turned toward the capital with a laugh and, without stopping his army for a single day, entered Osaka. The ones who were shocked this time were the warrior-monks of the Honganji. Suddenly face to face with Nobunaga's army, they had no idea what to do. But Nobunaga was content simply to line his men up in battle array.

"We can strike anytime we like," he said. At this point he wanted most strongly to avoid any unnecessary expenditure of military strength. And, until this time, he had repeatedly sent envoys to Kyoto asking for a response to the Seventeen Articles. So this was a sort of ultimatum. Yoshiaki took a highhanded view: he was shogun and he simply did not feel like listening to Nobunaga's opinions of his administration.

Among the Seventeen Articles, Yoshiaki was pressed quite firmly by two articles in particular. The first was concerned with the crime of disloyalty to the Emperor. The second article had to do with his disgraceful conduct. While it was his duty to maintain the peace of the Empire, he himself had incited the provinces to rebellion.

"It's useless. He'll never accept this kind of grillingjust written notes and messengers," Araki Murashige said to Nobunaga.

Hosokawa Fujitaka, who had also joined Nobunaga, added, "I suppose it's no use hoping that the shogun will wake up before his fall."

Nobunaga nodded. He seemed to understand only too well. But it would not be necessary to use the drastic violence here that he had employed at Mount Hiei; neither was he so poor in strategy that he would have to use the same method twice.

"Back to Kyoto!" Nobunaga had given this order on the fourth day of the Fourth Month, but it had seemed nothing more than an exercise to impress the masses with the size of his army.

"Look at that! He's not going to have them bivouac for very long. Just like the last time, Nobunaga's uneasy about Gifu and is hurriedly withdrawing his soldiers," Yoshiaki said, elated. With the reports that came to him one after another, however, his color began to change. For just as he was congratulating himself about the troops bypassing Kyoto, the Oda army flowed into the capital from the Osaka road. Then, without a single war cry and more peacefully than if they had been simply performing maneuvers, the soldiers surrounded Yoshiaki's residence.

"We're close to the Imperial Palace, so be careful not to disturb His Majesty. It will be enough to censure this impudent shogun's crimes," Nobunaga ordered.

There was no gunfire, and not even the hum of a single bowstring. It was uncanny, far more than if there had been a great commotion.

"Yamato, what do you think we should do? What is Nobunaga going to do to me?" Yoshiaki asked his senior adviser, Mibuchi Yamato.

"You're pitifully unprepared. At this point, do you still not understand what Nobunaga has in mind? He's clearly come to attack you."

"B-but I'm the shogun!"

"These are troubled times. What good is a title going to do you? It appears that you have only two choices: either resolve to fight or sue for peace." As his retainer spoke these words, tears fell from his eyes. Along with Hosokawa Fujitaka, this honorable man had not left Yoshiaki's side since the days of his exile.

"I do not remain to protect my honor or to seek fame. Nor am I following a strategy for survival. I know what's going to happen tomorrow, but somehow I just can't abandon this fool of a shogun," Yamato had once said. Certainly he knew that Yoshiaki was hardly worth saving. He knew the world was changing, but he seemed resolved to stand his ground at Nijo Palace. He was already over fifty years old, a general past his prime.

"Sue for peace? Is there any good reason why I, the shogun, should beg someone like Nobunaga for peace?"

"You're so obsessed by the title of shogun that your only course is self-destruction."

"Don't you think we'll win, if we fight?"

"There's no reason why we should. It would be completely laughable if you put up a defense of this place with any thought of victory."

"Well then, w-why are you and the other generals dressed up in your armor so ostentatiously?"

"We think it would at least be a beautiful way to die. Even though the situation is hopeless, to make our final stand here will be a fitting end to fourteen generations of shoguns. That is the duty of a samurai, after all. It's really nothing more than arranging flowers at a funeral."

"Wait! Don't attack yet! Put down your guns."

Yoshiaki disappeared into the palace and consulted with Hino and Takaoka, two courtiers with whom he was on friendly terms. After noon, a messenger was secretly sent out of the palace by Hino. Following that, the governor of Kyoto came from the Oda side and, toward evening, Oda Nobuhiro appeared as a formal envoy from Nobunaga.

Hereafter, I will carefully observe each of the articles," Yoshiaki assured the envoy. With a bitter look on his face, Yoshiaki pledged himself with words that were not in his heart. That day he begged for peace. Nobunaga's soldiers withdrew and peacefully returned to Gifu.

Only one hundred days later, however, Nobunaga's army once again surrounded Nijo Palace. And that was because, of course, Yoshiaki had fallen back on his old tricks once again after the first peace.

The great roof of the Myokaku Temple at Nijo was beaten desolately by the rains of the Seventh Month. The temple served as Nobunaga's headquarters. There had been a terrible wind and rain from the time his fleet had started across Lake Biwa. But this had only increased the determination of the troops. Soaked by the rain and covered in mud, they had surrounded the shogun's palace and were poised, waiting only for the command to attack.

No one knew if Yoshiaki was to be executed or taken prisoner, but his fate was entirely in their hands. Nobunaga's troops felt as though they were looking into the cage of a fierce, noble animal that they were about to slaughter.

The voices of Nobunaga and Hideyoshi drifted on the wind.

"What are you going to do?" Hideyoshi asked.

"At this point there are no two ways about it." Nobunaga was firm. "I'm not forgiving him this time."

"But he's the"

"Don't belabor the obvious."

"Is there no margin for a little more deliberation?"

"None! Absolutely not!"

The room in the temple was gloomy from the darkening rain outside. The combination of the lingering summer heat and the long autumn rains had resulted in such humid weather that even the gold leaf of the Buddhas and the monochrome ink drawings on the siding doors looked mildewed.

"I'm not criticizing you for being rash when I ask for a little more deliberation," Hideyoshi said. "But the position of shogun is granted by the Imperial Court, so we cannot treat the matter lighdy. And it will give the anti-Nobunaga forces an excuse to call for justice against the man who killed his rightful lord, the shogun."

"I suppose you're right," Nobunaga replied.

"Happily, Yoshiaki is so weak that though he is trapped, he'll neither kill himself nor come out to fight. He's just going to lock up the gates of his palace and rely on the water in his moat to keep rising from all this rain."

"So, what is your plan?" Nobunaga asked.

"We purposely open one part of our encirclement and provide a way for the shogun to escape."

"Won't he become a nuisance in the future? He might be used to strengthen the ambitions of some other province."

"No," Hideyoshi said, "I think that people have gradually become disgusted with Yoshiaki's character. I suspect that they would understand even if Yoshiaki were driven from the capital, and they would be satisfied that your punishment was fitting."

That evening the besieging army created an opening and made an obvious display of a shortage of soldiers. Inside the palace, the shogun's men seemed to suspect that this was some sort of trick, and by midnight they had still made no move to leave. But during a lull in the rain near dawn, a corps of mounted men suddenly crossed the moat and fled from the capital.

When Nobunaga was told that it was certain that Yoshiaki had escaped, he addressed his troops. "The house is empty! There's not much benefit in attacking an empty house, but the shogunate that has lasted fourteen generations has brought about its own downfall. Attack and raise your victory cries! This will be the funeral service for the evil government of the Ashikaga shoguns."

The Nijo Palace was destroyed in one attack. Almost all the retainers in the palace surrendered. Even the two nobles, Hino and Takaoka, came out and apologized to Nobunaga. But one man, Mibuchi Yamato, and more than sixty of his retainers fought to the very end without submitting. Not one of them fled and not one of them yielded. All were cut down in battle and died gloriously as samurai.

Yoshiaki fled Kyoto and entrenched himself in Uji. Reckless as always, he had with him only a small defeated force. When, not long afterward, Nobunaga's troops closed in on his headquarters at the Byodoin Temple, Yoshiaki surrendered without a struggle.

"Everyone leave," Nobunaga ordered.

Nobunaga sat a little straighter and looked directly at Yoshiaki.

"I suppose you've not forgotten that you once said you thought of me as your father. It was a happy day when you were sitting in the palace I had rebuilt for you." Yoshiaki was silent. "Do you remember?"

"Lord Nobunaga, I have not forgotten. Why are you talking of those days now?"

"You're a coward, my lord. I'm not thinking of taking your life, even after things have come to this. Why are you still telling lies?"

"Forgive me. I was wrong."

"I'm happy to hear it. But you certainly are in troubleeven though you were born to the position of shogun."

"I want to die. Lord Nobunaga I won't you assist me in committing seppuku?

"Please stop!" Nobunaga laughed. "Excuse my rudeness, but I suspect you don't even know the proper way of cutting open your own stomach. I've never really felt inclined to hate you. It's just that you never stop playing with fire, and the sparks keep flying to other provinces."

"I understand now."

"Well, I think it might be better if you retired somewhere quietly. I'll keep your son and bring him up, so you won't need to worry about his future."

Yoshiaki was released and told that he was free to gointo exile.

Guarded by Hideyoshi, Yoshiaki's son was taken to Wakae Castle. This arrangement was really a case of malice rewarded with favor, but Yoshiaki took it with his usual jaundiced view and could only feel that his son had been politely taken hostage. Miyoshi Yoshitsugu was governor of Wakae Castle, and later Yoshiaki too found shelter with him.

Not wanting to play host to a bothersome, defeated aristocrat, however, Yoshitsugu

soon made him feel uneasy, saying, "I think you're going to be in danger if you stay here much longer. Nobunaga could change his mind at the slightest provocation and have your head cut off."

Yoshiaki left in a hurry and went to Kii, where he tried to incite the warrior-monks of Kumano and Saiga to rebel, promising them grandiose favors in return for striking Nobunaga down. Using the name and dignity of his office, he did nothing more than bring down upon himself the derision and laughter of the people. It was rumored that he did not stay long in Kii, but soon crossed into Bizen and became a dependent of the Ukita clan.

And with this, a new era started. It could be said that the destruction of the shogunate was a sudden opening in the thick clouds that had covered the sky. Now a small portion of blue could be seen. There is nothing more frightening than a period of aimless national government administered by rulers in name only. The samurai ruled in every province, protecting their privileges; the clergy acquired wealth and strengthened its authority. The nobles were changed to mice in the Imperial Court, one day relying on the warriors, the next imploring the clergy, and then abusing the government for their own defense. Thus the Empire was sundered into four nationsthe nation of priests, the nation of samurai, the nation of the court, and the nation of the shogunateeach of which fought its private wars.

The eyes of the people were opened wide at Nobunaga's actions. But even though they looked up at the deep blue sky, all the thick clouds had not yet dispersed. Nobody could guess what would happen next. During the past two or three years, several key men had passed away. Two years before both Mori Motonari, the lord of the largest domain in western Japan, and Hojo Ujiyasu, the master of eastern Japan, had died. But for Nobunaga these events did not carry nearly as great a significance as the death of Takeda Shingen and the exile of Yoshiaki. To Nobunaga, it was especially the death of Shingenwho had constantly threatened him from the norththat left him free to concentrate his strength in one direction, a direction that made more fighting and chaos almost inevitable. There was certainly no doubt that, after the demise of the shogunate, the warrior clans in every province would raise their banners and compete to be the first to enter the field.

"Nobunaga has burned down Mount Hiei and overthrown the shogun. Such lawlessness must be punished!" This would be their battle cry.

Nobunaga knew that he would have to steal the initiative and defeat his rivals before they were able to form an alliance against him. "Hideyoshi, you hurry back first. I'll probably come visit you at Yokoyama Castle soon."

"I'll be waiting for you." Hideyoshi seemed to have grasped the direction of events, and after accompanying Yoshiaki's son to Wakae, he quickly returned to his castle at Yokoyama.

It was the end of the Seventh Month when Nobunaga returned to Gifu. At the beginning of the next month, an urgent letter written in Hideyoshi's own poor hand arrived m Yokoyama: "The opportunity is ripe. Let's move!"

In the lingering heat of the Eighth Month, Nobunaga's army left Yanagase and crossed into Echizen. Opposing it was the army of Asakura Yoshikage of Ichijogadani. At the end of the Seventh Month, Yoshikage had received an urgent message from Odani, from Asai Hisamasa and his son, Nagamasa, his allies in northern Omi:

The Oda army is coming north. Send reinforcements quickly. If help is slow in coming, we will be lost.

There were those in the war councils who doubted that this could be true, but the Asai were allies, so ten thousand soldiers were hastily dispatched. And when this vanguard had marched as far as Mount Tagami, they realized that the Oda attack was a fact. Once the reality was understood, a rear guard of more than twenty thousand men was sent. Asakura Yoshikage considered the crisis grave enough to lead the army in person. Any fighting in northern Omi was obviously extremely alarming to the Asakura, because the Asai formed the first line of defense for their own province.

Both the Asai father and son were at Odani Castle; about three leagues away stood Yokoyama Castle, in which Hideyoshi had entrenched himself, keeping watch on the Asai like a hawk for Nobunaga.

By autumn, Nobunaga was already attacking the Asai. He struck Kinomoto in a surprise attack against the army of Echizen. Over two thousand eight hundred heads were taken by the Oda. They pressed on against the enemy, now fleeing from Yanagase, running them down and blackening the dry early-autumn grasses with blood.

The Echizen warriors lamented the weakness of their army. But the fierce generals and brave warriors who turned back to fight were struck down in battle. Why were they so weak? And why were they unable to strike at the Oda? In anyone's fall, there is an accumulation of factors, and natural collapse comes in an instant. But when this particular instant came, both ally and enemy wondered at its suddenness and magnitude. The rise and fall of provinces, however, are always based on natural phenomena, and here, too, there was really nothing miraculous or strange. The weakness of the Asakura could be understood simply by looking at the behavior of their commander-in-chief, Yoshikage. Caught in the stampede of his men fleeing from Yanagase, Yoshikage had already lost his head.

"It's all over! We can't even flee! Both my horse and I are exhausted. To the mountains!" he cried.

He had neither a plan for a counterattack nor any spirit left to fight. Thinking only of himself, he quickly abandoned his horse and tried to find a hiding place.

"What are you doing!" Scolding him with tears in his eyes, his chief retainer, Takuma Mimasaka, pulled him back by his sash, forced him onto his horse, and pushed him off toward Echizen. Then, standing his ground in order to give his lord time to escape, he took over a thousand soldiers and fought against the Oda army as long as he could.

It is hardly necessary to say that Takuma and all his men died, suffering a wretched and complete annihilation. While such loyal retainers were being sacrificed, Yoshikage shut himself up in his main castle at Ichijogadani. But he did not even have the spirit to put up a stubborn defense of the land of his ancestors.

Soon after his return to the castle, he took his wife and children and fled to a temple in the Ono district. He reasoned that if they had been inside the castle, when worst came to worst, he would have had no escape route. With their lord demonstrating such a lack of resolve, all of his generals and soldiers deserted.

Autumn was at its fullest. Nobunaga returned to his camp on Mount Toragoze, from which point he had already surrounded Odani. From the time he arrived, he had seemed extraordinarily composed, as though he were simply waiting for the castle to fall. With the precipitous collapse of Echizen, he had immediately returned while the ashes of Ichijogadani were still smoldering. Now he was giving out orders.

Maenami Yoshitsugu, the surrendering general of Echizen, was given Toyohara Castle, similarly, Asakura Kageaki was commanded to defend Ino Castle, and Toda Yarokuro was ordered to the castle at Fuchu. Thus Nobunaga employed a large number of Asakura retainers who were familiar with the conditions of the province. Finally, Akechi Mitsuhide was left in charge as their overseer.

In all likelihood there could not have been anyone better suited for this responsibility than Mitsuhide. During his unsettled days as a wanderer, he had been a retainer of the Asakura clan and lived in the castle town of Ichijogadani, suffering the cold glances of his colleagues. Now, in a completely reversed situation, he was keeping watch over his former masters.

Considerable pride and a stream of other emotions must have passed through Mitsuhide's breast. Furthermore, Mitsuhide's intelligence and ability had been recognized on a number of occasions, and he was now one of Nobunaga's favorite retainers. In his observation of others, Mitsuhide was far more intelligent than most men, and after a number of years of battles and daily service, he understood Nobunaga's character quite well. He knew his master's expressions, words, and lookseven at a distancejust as well as he did his own.

Mitsuhide dispatched riders from Echizen many times a day. He did not make even the smallest decision on his own, but asked for Nobunaga's instructions in every situation, Nobunaga made his decisions while looking at these notes and letters in his camp on Mount Toragoze.

Mountains in full autumn colors lined the cloudless blue sky, which in turn was reflected in the bright blue lake below. The chattering of birds invited a yawn here and here.

Hideyoshi quickly crossed the mountains from Yokoyama. Joking with his men on the way, his teeth shone white as he laughed in the autumn sun. As he approached, he greeted everyone around him. This was the man who had built the castle at Sunomata and later had been put in charge of Yokoyama Castle. His responsibilities and position among the generals of the Oda army had very quickly become prominent, and yet he was he same as he had always been.

When other generals compared his behavior with their own solemn ways, there were some who judged him to be frivolous and indiscreet, but others saw him in a different light, saying, "He's worthy of his rank. He hasn't changed from what he was before, even though his stipend's increased. First he was a servant, then a samurai, and then suddenly

he was governing a castle. But he's still the same. I imagine he's going to earn an even larger domain."

Hideyoshi had just before then leisurely shown his face in camp before luring Nobunaga away with a few simple words, and they were both climbing up toward the mountains.

"How impertinent!" Shibata Katsuie exclaimed as he and Sakuma Nobumori went out beyond the barracks.

"That is why he's so disliked, even when he doesn't have to be. There's nothing more unpleasant than listening to someone who rattles on about his own cleverness." Almost spitting out their words, they watched the figure of Hideyoshi thread his way through the far-off marsh in the company of Nobunaga.

"He doesn't tell us anythingdoesn't consult with us at all."

"First of all, isn't that awfully dangerous? It may be broad daylight, but the enemy could be lurking anywhere in these mountains. What would happen if they started shooting at him?"

"Well, His Lordship is His Lordship."

"No, it's Hideyoshi who's at fault. Even if a large crowd accompanies His Lordship, Hideyoshi fawns all over him until he catches his eye."

There were other commanders besides Katsuie and Nobumori who were unhappy with the situation. Most of them assumed that Hideyoshi was off with Nobunaga in the mountains, planning some battle strategy with his usual glib tongue. This was the primary source of their discomfort.

"He's ignoring us the inner circle of his generals."

Whether Hideyoshi did not understand such inner workings of human nature or simply chose to ignore them, he led Nobunaga off into the mountains, occasionally laughing with a voice that would have been more fitting for a holiday excursion. With his and Nobunaga's retainers combined, their small force was made up of no more than twenty or thirty men.

"A man really sweats when he climbs mountains. Shall I give you a hand, my lord?"

"Don't be insulting."

"It's just a little farther."

"I haven't climbed enough. Aren't there any mountains higher than this?"

"Unfortunately no, not in this area. But this is pretty high!"

Wiping the sweat from his face, Nobunaga looked down into the neighboring valleys. He saw that Hideyoshi's troops were hiding among the trees, standing guard.

"The men accompanying us should stay here. It wouldn't be good for us to go in a large group past this point." This said, Hideyoshi and Nobunaga walked thirty or forty paces the crest of the hill.

There were no longer any trees. Tender grains and grasses that would have made good fodder stretched along the surface of the mountain. Chinese balloon flowers rustled among the pampas grass. Blooms of beggar's purse clung to the scabbards of their swords. The two of them advanced in silence. It was as though they were looking out to sea, with nothing before them.

"Stoop down, my lord."

"Like this?"

"Hide yourself in the grass." As they crawled to the edge of the precipice, a castle appeared in the valley right beneath them.

"That's Odani," Hideyoshi said softly as he pointed toward the castle.

Nobunaga nodded and looked on silently. His eyes were shrouded in some deep emotion. It was not simply that he was looking at the enemy's main castle. Inside this castle that was now besieged by his own army lived his younger sister, Oichi, who had already borne four children since becoming the wife of the castle's lord.

Both lord and retainer sat down. The flowers and the ears of the autumn grasses came up to their shoulders. Nobunaga stared unblinkingly at the castle beneath them, and then turned toward Hideyoshi.

"I daresay my sister is angry with me. I was the one who married her into the Asai clan without even letting her speak her own mind. She was told to sacrifice herself for the good of the clan, and that the match was necessary to protect the province. Hideyoshi, I feel as though I can still see that scene today."

"I remember it well myself," Hideyoshi said. "She had an enormous amount of baggage and a beautiful palanquin, and she was surrounded by attendants and decorated horrses. It was a splendid event, the day she went off to be married north of Lake Biwa."

"Oichi was only an innocent girl of fourteen."

"She was such a small, pretty bride."

"Hideyoshi."

"Yes?"

"You understand, don't you? How painful this is for me"

"For that very reason, it's hard for me too."

Nobunaga motioned toward the castle with his chin. "There is no difficulty in the decision to destroy this castle, but when I think about trying to get Oichi out of there without her getting hurt"

"When you ordered me to spy out the lay of the land around Odani Castle, I guessed that you were planning a campaign against the Asakura and the Asai. I probably sound as though I'm flattering myself again, but if you'll allow me to speak frankly, I think you're somewhat reserved about showing your natural feelings, and certainly the cause of your distress, my lord. It's rude of me to say this, but I think I've discovered one more of your iter qualities."

"You're the only one." Nobunaga clicked his tongue. "Katsuie, Nobumori, and the others look at me as though I've been wasting my time for the last ten days. Their faces show that they don't understand me at all. It seems that Katsuie especially is laughing at me behind my back."

'That's because, my lord, you are still confused about which way to go."

"I can't help but be confused. If we were to pulverize the enemy bit by bit, there's no doubt that Asai Nagamasa and his father would drag Oichi down with them to the bottom of the flames."

"That's probably the way it would be."

"Hideyoshi, you say you've felt the same way I do from the very beginning, but you're listening to this with extraordinary composure. Don't you have some sort of plan?"

"I'm not without one."

"Well, why don't you hurry up and put my mind to rest?"

"I've been doing my best not to make recommendations recently."

"Why?"

"Because there are a lot of other people in the staff headquarters."

"Are you afraid of other people's jealousy? That's annoying, too. But the main thing is that I am the one who decides everything. Tell me your plan right away."

"Look over there, my lord." Hideyoshi pointed at Odani Castle. "What makes this castle special is that the three enclosures are more distinct and independent than in most other castles. Lord Hisamasa lives in the first enclosure; and his son, Nagamasa, and Lady Oichi and her children live in the third."

"Over there?"

"Yes, my lord. Now, the area you see between the first and third enclosures is called the Kyogoku enclosure, and that's where the senior retainers, Asai Genba, Mitamura Uemondayu, and Onogi Tosa are quartered. So, in order to capture Odani, rather than hitting the tail or striking the head, if we can first get our hands on the Kyogoku enclosure, the other two will be cut off."

"I see. You're saying that our next move is to attack the Kyogoku."

"No, if we storm the Kyogoku, the first and third enclosures will send reinforcements. Our men will be attacked on both flanks, and a fierce battle will ensue. In that case, would we try to break our way through or retreat? Either way, we cannot be sure of Lady Oichi's fate inside the castle."

"So what should we do?"

"Of course, it's clear that the very best strategy would be to send a messenger to the Asai, explain the advantages and disadvantages of the situation clearly, and take possession of both the castle and Oichi without incident."

"You should know that I've already tried that twice. I sent a messenger to the castle and informed them that if they surrendered, I would allow them to keep their domains. I made sure that they knew that Echizen had been conquered, but neither Nagamasa nor his father is going to budge. They're only going to show off how tough they are, just like before. Their 'toughness,' of course, is nothing more than using Oichi's life as a shield. They think that I'll never make a reckless attack as long as they have my own sister in the castle."

"But it's not just that. For the two years I've been at Yokoyama, I've been watching Nagamasa carefully, and he does have some talent and willpower. Well, I've been trying to think of a plan to capture this castle for a long time, to figure out the best strategy in case we ever had to attack it. I have captured the Kyogoku enclosure without losing a single man."

"What? What are you saying?" Nobunaga doubted his own ears. "The second enclosure you see over there. Our men are already in control of it," Hideyoshi repeated, "so I'm saying you don't have to worry anymore."

"Is this true?"

"Would I lie to you at a time like this, my lord?"

"But I can't believe it."

"That's understandable, but you'll be able to hear it with your own ears soon, from two men I've summoned. Would you meet with them?"

"Who are they?"

"One is a monk called Miyabe Zensho. The other is Onogi Tosa, the commander of the enclosure."

Nobunaga could not rid himself of his surprised expression. He believed Hideyoshi, but he could not help wondering how he had persuaded a senior retainer of the Asai clan come over to their side.

Hideyoshi explained the situation as though there were nothing unusual about it at all. "Shortly after Your Lordship awarded me the castle at Yokoyama" he started.

Nobunaga was a little startled. He was unable to look without blinking at the man who was speaking. Yokoyama Castle was situated on the front line of this strategic area, and Hideyoshi's troops were there to check the Asai and Asakura. He remembered the order posting Hideyoshi there temporarily, but he had no memory of a promise to give him the castle. But here was Hideyoshi saying that he had been given the castle. Nobunaga, however, put this in the back of his mind for the moment.

"Wasn't that the year right after the attack on Mount Hiei, when you came to Gifu to make a New Year's call?" Nobunaga asked.

"That's right. On the way back, Takenaka Hanbei fell ill and we were delayed. By the time we arrived at Yokoyama Castle, it was after dark."

"I don't feel like listening to a long story. Get to the point."

"The enemy had found out that I was away from the castle and was making a night attack. We repulsed them, of course, and at the time we captured the monk Miyabe Zensho."

"You took him alive?"

"Yes. Rather than cutting off his head we treated him kindly, and later, when I had a moment, I counseled him about the coming times and instructed him in the true significance of being a samurai. He, in turn, talked to his former master, Onogi Tosa, and persuaded him to surrender to us."

"Really?"

"The battlefield is no place for jokes," Hideyoshi said.

Lost in admiration, even Nobunaga was amazed at Hideyoshi's cunning. The battlefield is no place for jokes! And, just as he had bragged, Miyabe Zensho and Onogi Tosa were led in by Hideyoshi's retainer for an audience with Nobunaga. He questioned Tosa closely to confirm Hideyoshi's story.

The general responded clearly. "This surrender is not at my own discretion. The other two senior retainers stationed in the Kyogoku have realized that opposing you is not only foolish, but it would also hasten the fall of the clan and impose needless suffering on the people of the province."

Nagamasa was under thirty, but he already had four children by the Lady Oichi, who herself was twenty-three. He occupied the third enclosure of Odani Castle, which was really three castles in one.

Gunfire could be heard from the ravine to the south until the evening. The report of cannon sounded periodically, and each time the fretwork ceiling shook as if it were going to come loose.

Oichi looked up instinctively with frightened eyes, and held a baby more tightly against her breast. The child was as yet unweaned. There was no wind, but soot was blowing everywhere, and the light of the lamp flickered wildly.

"Mother! I'm scared!" Her second daughter, Hatsu, clung to her right sleeve while her eldest daughter, Chacha, silently held fast to her left knee. Her son, however, did not come to his mother's lap even though he was still small. He was brandishing an arrow shaft at a lady-in-waiting. This was Nagamasa's heir, Manjumaru,

"Let me see! Let me see the battle!" Manju cried petulantly, striking the lady-in-waiting with the headless arrow.

"Manju," his mother reproved him, "why are you hitting her? Your father is fighting. Have you already forgotten that he told you to behave during the fighting? If you're laughed at by the retainers, you won't become a good general even when you grow up."

Manju was old enough to understand a little of his mother's reasoning. He listened to her silently for a moment, but then suddenly began to cry out loud fretfully.

"I wanna see the battle! I wanna see!" The child's tutor did not know what to do either, and simply stood there watching. Just then there was a lull in the fighting, but gunfire could still be heard. The eldest girl, Chacha, was already seven years old, and she somehow understood the difficult circumstances her father was in, her mother's sorrow, and even the feelings of the warriors in the castle.

She said precociously, "Manju! Don't say things that upset Mother! Don't you think this is horrible for her? Father's out there fighting the enemy. Isn't that right, Mother?"

Taken to task, Manju looked at his sister and jumped on her, still brandishing the arrow shaft. "You stupid Chacha!" he shouted.

Chacha put her sleeve over her head and hid behind her mother.

"Be good now!" Trying to humor him, Oichi took the arrow shaft and talked to him quietly.

Suddenly there was the sound of violent footsteps in the entrance hall outside.

"What's that? To the likes of the Oda? They're nothing but little samurai who have pushed their way from the backwoods of Owari. Do you think I'm going to surrender to a man like Nobunaga? The Asai clan is in a different class from them!" Asai Nagamasa entered unannounced, followed by two or three generals.

When he saw that his wife was out of harm's way in this cavernous, poorly lit room, he was relieved. "I'm a little tired," he said, sitting down and loosening the cords on a section of his armor. Then he said to the generals behind him, "With the way things are going this evening, the enemy may well make an all-out attack around midnight. We'd better rest now."

When the commanders got up to leave, Nagamasa heaved a sigh of relief. Even in the midst of battle, he was able to remember that he was both a father and a husband.

"Was the sound of the guns this evening frightening, my dear?" he asked his wife.

Surrounded by her children, Oichi replied, "No, we were in here, so it was all right."

"Didn't Manju or Chacha get scared and cry?"

You should be proud of them. They acted like adults."

Really?" he said, forcing a smile. Then he continued, "Don't worry. The Oda made a fierce attack, but we pushed them back with a volley from the castle. Even if they continue attacking us for twenty or thirty, or even one hundred days, we'll never surrender. We are the Asai clan! We're not going to yield to someone like Nobunaga." He railed against the oda almost as though he could spit, but then suddenly fell silent.

With the light of the lamp behind her, Oichi's face was buried in the child suckling at her breast. This was Nobunaga's little sister! Nagamasa shook with emotion. She even looked like him. She had her brothers' delicate complexion and his profile.

Are you crying?"

The baby sometimes gets fretful and chews my nipple when the milk doesn't come out.

The milk isn't coming out?"

No, not now."

That's because you have some unseen sorrow and you're getting too thin. But you are a mother, and this is a mother's true battle."

I know."

I suspect you think I'm a hard husband."

She edged up to her husband's side, still holding the child to her breast. "No, I don't! Why should I bear a grudge? I look at it all as fate."

People can't be reconciled just by saying that it's fate. The life of a samurai's wife is more painful than swallowing swords. If you are not completely resolved, it won't be a resolution at all."

I'm trying to come to that kind of an understanding, but all I can think of is that Im a mother."

My dear, even on the day I married you, I didn't think that you would be mine forever. Neither did my father give his permission for you to become a true bride of the Asai.

What! What are you saying?"

At a time like this, a man has to tell the truth. This moment will never come again, so Im going to open my heart to you. When Nobunaga sent you to marry me, it was really nothing more than a political strategem. I could see through to what was in his heart from the very first." He paused. "But even while I knew that, a love grew between us that nothing could ever stop. Then we had four children. At this point you are no longer Nobuaga's sister. You're my wife and the mother of my children. I won't allow you to shed tears for our enemy. So why are you growing so thin and holding back the milk you should be giving to our child?"

Now she could see. Everything that had been a result of "fate" had been conceived as political strategem. She was a bride of political strategy: from the very first Nagamasa had seen Nobunaga as someone to watch. But Nobunaga had sincerely loved his brother-in-law.

Nobunaga believed that the heir of the Asai clan had a future, and he had trusted him. He had pushed for the marriage enthusiastically. But the match had been in doubt from the very beginning, because of the much older alliance between the Asai and the Asakura of Echizen. Their pact was not simply one of mutual defense, but a complex relationship based on friendship and mutual favors. The Asakura and Oda had been enemies for years. When Nobunaga had attacked the Saito in Gifu, how much had they hindered him and come to the aid of the Saito?

Nobunaga overcame this obstacle to the match by sending a written pledge to the Asakura, promising not to invade their domain.

Soon after the wedding, both Nagamasa's father and the Asakura clanto which he owed so many favorsbegan to pressure Nagamasa to regard his wife with suspicion. In the meantime, the Asai had joined the Asakura, the shogun, Takeda Shingen of Kai, and the warrior-monks of Mount Hiei in an anti-Nobunaga alliance.

The following year Nobunaga had invaded Echizen. Suddenly he was struck from behind. Cutting off Nobunaga's path of retreat and acting in concert with the Asakura clan, Nagamasa had plotted the man's utter annihilation. At the time, Nagamasa made it clear to Nobunaga that he was not going to let his judgment be affected by his wife, but Nobunaga would not believe it. The forces of the Asai and the martial valor of the man whom Nobunaga had trusted had become a fire at his very feet. Indeed, they had become chains. After the destruction of Echizen, however, Odani Castle was no longer either a fire or constricting chains.

Nevertheless, at this time Nobunaga was still hopeful that he would not have to kill Nagamasa. Of course, he respected Nagamasa's courage, but more than that, he was troubled with his affection for Oichi. People thought this strange, remembering that, when he had destroyed Mount Hiei with fire, this lord had thought nothing of being called "the king of the demons."

Autumn deepened day by day. At dawn, the dew on the grass around the castle was wet and cold.

"My lord, something terrible has happened." Fujikake Mikawa's voice was unusually perturbed. Nagamasa had slept that night near the mosquito netting that protected his wife and children, but he had not taken off his armor.

"What is it, Mikawa?" He quickly left the bedroom, breathing heavily. A dawn attack! That was his first thought. But the disaster that Mikawa was reporting was worse than that.

"The Kyogoku enclosure was taken by the Oda during the night."

"What!"

"There's no doubt. You can see it from the keep, my lord."

"It can't be." He climbed quickly to the watchtower, stumbling many times on the dark stairs. Although the Kyogoku was far away from the watchtower, the enclosure looked as if it were just below him. There, fluttering at the top of the castle in the distance, were a great number of banners, but not one of them belonged to the Asai. One of the commanders' standards, flying brilliantly and proudly in the wind, quite clearly evidenced the presence of Hideyoshi.

"We've been betrayed! Fine! I'll show them. I'll show Nobunaga and all the samurai in this country," he said, forcing a smile. "I'll show them how Asai Nagamasa dies!"

Nagamasa descended the darkened stairway of the watchtower. For the retainers who followed him, it was like accompanying their lord deep beneath the surface of the earth. "What-what's going on?" lamented one of the generals, halfway down the staircase. "Onogi Tosa, Asai Genba, and Mitamura Uemon have gone over to the enemy," one general answered.

Another man said bitterly, "Even though they were senior retainers, they betrayed the trust placed in them when they were put in charge of the Kyogoku."

"They're inhuman!"

Nagamasa turned around and said, "Stop complaining!"

They stood in the wide, wooden-floored room at the bottom of the stairs, which was brightened by a faint light. The fortified room resembled a huge cage or jail cell. Many of the wounded had been brought here, and they lay on straw mats, groaning. When Nagamasa passed through, even the samurai who were lying down made an effort to kneel.

"I won't let them die in vain! I won't let them die in vain!" Nagamasa said with tears in his eyes as he passed through. Yet he turned again to his generals and strictly forbade them to complain.

"There is no use in insulting others. Each of you must pick your own course whether you surrender to the enemy or die with me. There's moral duty on both sides, Nobunaga is fighting to rebuild the nation; I'm fighting for the name and honor of the samurai class. If you think you had better submit to Nobunaga, then go to him. I'm certainly not going to stop you!" So saying, he walked out to check the defenses of the castle, but he had not taken a hundred paces when something much more serious than losing Kyogoku was reported to him.

"My lord! My lord! Terrible news!" One of his officers, drenched in blood, came running toward him and dropped to his knees. "What is it, Kyutaro?"

A premonition that something was very wrong settled quickly in Nagamasa's breast. Wakui Kyutaro was not a samurai stationed in the third enclosure; he was a retainer of Nagamasa's father.

"Your honored father, Lord Hisamasa, has just committed seppuku. I cut my way here through the enemy to bring you this." Kyutaro dropped to his knees. Gasping, he took out Hisamasa's topknot and the silk kimono it was wrapped in and put them into Nagamasa's hand.

"What! The first enclosure has also fallen?"

"Just before dawn, a corps of soldiers took the secret path from Kyogoku to just outside the castle gate, flying Onogi's standard, saying that Onogi urgently needed to see Lord Hisamasa. Assuming that Onogi was leading his own men, the guards opened the the gate. As soon as that happened, a large force of soldiers rushed in and cut their way through to the inner citadel."

"The enemy?"

"The greater part of them were Lord Hideyoshi's retainers, but the men who showed him the way were undoubtedly the retainers of that traitor Onogi."

"Well, what about my father?"

"He fought gallantly to the very end. He himself set fire to the inner citadel and then committed suicide, but the enemy put out the fire and occupied the castle."

"Ah! So that's why we didn't see any flames or smoke."

"If flames had been rising from the first enclosure, then you would have sent reinforcements, or you might have set fire to this castle and committed suicide with your wife and children when your father perished. I think this is what the enemy feared and planned against."

Suddenly, Kyutaro dug his nails into the ground and said, "My lord I am dying" With his palms pressed down in obeisance, his head dropped to the floor. He had fought and won a far more bitter battle than on the field.

"Another brave soul gone," someone lamented behind Nagamasa, and then softly intoned a prayer.

The sound of prayer beads clicked in the silence. When Nagamasa turned, he saw that it was the head priest, Yuzananother refugee from the war.

"I was sorry to hear that Lord Hisamasa met his end early this morning," Yuzan said.

"Your Reverence, I have a request," Nagamasa said in a steady voice. His words were calm, but there was no concealing their plaintive tone. "It will be my turn next. I would like to gather all of my retainers together and hold a funeral service, at least in form, while I am still alive. In the valley behind Odani, there is a memorial stone carved with the Buddhist death name you yourself gave me. Would you please have the stone moved inside the castle? You're a priest, and surely the enemy would let you through."

"Of course."

Yuzan left immediately. As he did so, one of Nagamasa's generals nearly ran into him as he hurried in.

"Fuwa Mitsuharu has come to the castle gate."

"Who is he?"

"A retainer of Lord Nobunaga."

"The enemy?" Nagamasa spat. "Chase him away. I don't have any use for Nobunaga's retainers. If he won't go away, feed him some rocks from the castle gate."

The samurai obeyed Nagamasa's command and dashed off immediately, but soon another commander arrived.

"The messenger from the enemy is still standing at the castle gate. He won't leave, no matter what we say. He protests that war is war, and negotiations are negotiations, and asks why we lack the proper etiquette toward him as a representative of his province."

Nagamasa ignored these complaints, and then berated the man who had repeated them. "Why are you explaining the protests of a man I told you to chase off?"

Just then, yet another general came forward. "My lord, the rules of war dictate that you should meet with him, even for just a moment. I would not have it said that Asai Nagamasa was so distracted that he lost his composure and refused to grant an audience to an enemy envoy."

"All right, let him in. I'll see him, at least. Over there," Nagamasa said, pointing to the guard room.

More than half of the soldiers in the castle of the Asai hoped that peace was walking in through the gate. It was not that they lacked admiration or devotion for Nagamasa, but the duty" that Nagamasa preached and the reasons for this war were entwined with his relationship with Echizen and his resentment of Nobunaga's ambitions and achievements. The soldiers understood this contrast only too well.

And there was more. Although Odani Castle had held out steadfastly until then, both the first and second enclosures had already fallen. What chance of victory did they have, entrenched in an isolated and desolate castle?

Thus, the arrival of the Oda envoy was like the clear blue sky they had been waiting for. Fuwa entered the castle, went into the room where Nagamasa awaited him, and knelt in front of him.

The men inside fixed Fuwa with hostile stares; their hair was disheveled, and they had wounds on their hands and heads. The kneeling Fuwa spoke so gently that one might have doubted that he was a general at all.

I have the honor of being Lord Nobunaga's envoy."

Formal greetings are not necessary on the battlefield. Let's get to the point," Nagamasa said peremptorily.

Lord Nobunaga admires your loyalty to the Asakura clan but today, the Asakura have already fallen, and their ally, the shogun, is in exile. Both favors and grudges are now far in the past, so why should the Oda and Asai clans be fighting? Not only that, but Lord Nobunaga is your brother-in-law; you are the beloved husband of his sister."

Ive heard this all before. If you're asking for a peace treaty, I absolutely refuse. It wont make any difference how persuasive you are."

With all due respect, there's nothing left for you to do but to capitulate. Your behavior so far has been exemplary. Why not give up the castle like a man, and work for your clans future? If you agree, Lord Nobunaga is willing to give you the entire province of Yamato."

Nagamasa let out a scornful laugh. He waited until the envoy had finished. "Please tell Lord Nobunaga that I am not going to be fooled by such clever words. What he is really concerned about is his sister, not me."

That's a cynical view."

Say whatever you like," he hissed, "but go back and tell him that I'm not considering saving myself through my ties with my wife. And you had better tell Nobunaga to persuade himself of the fact that Oichi is my wife and no longer his sister."

Well then, I take it you plan to share the fate of this castle, no matter what?"

Im resolved on that not only for myself but for my wife, too."

Then there's nothing more to be said." With that Fuwa returned directly to Nobunagas camp.

After that, hopelessnessor, more properly, emptinessfilled the castle with gloom. Soldiers who had expected peace from the Oda messenger could only assume that the talks had broken down. They were now openly despondent, because they had briefly hoped that their lives would be spared.

There was another reason for gloom to settle on the castle. Although there was a battle going on, the funeral for Nagamasa's father was taking place, and voices intoning the sutras drifted out from the interior of the keep until the following day.

Oichi and her four children wore white silk garments of mourning from that day on.

The cords that held up their hair were black. They seemed to possess a purity that was not of this world, even though they were yet alive, and even those retainers who were resolved to die in the castle quite naturally felt their fate was too pitiful for words.

Yuzan now returned to the castle, accompanied by workmen carrying the stone monument. Just before dawn, incense and flowers were placed in the main hall of the castle for the funeral service for the living.

Yuzan addressed the assembly of the Asai clan's retainers. "Valuing his name as a member of the samurai class, Lord Asai Nagamasa, the master of this castle, has passed away like a beautiful fallen flower. Therefore, as his retainers it is proper for you to pay your last respects."

Nagamasa sat behind the stone monument as though he had really died. At the beginning, the samurai looked as though they did not understand. They asked themselves if all this was necessary and fidgeted in the strange atmosphere.

But Oichi and the children and other members of the family knelt in front of the monument and put incense into the burner.

Someone began to weep, and soon everyone was affected. Filling the broad room, the armored men hung their heads and averted their eyes. Not one of them could look up.

When the ceremony was over, Yuzan took the lead, and several samurai shouldered the monument and carried it out of the castle. This time they went down to Lake Biwa, took a small boat, and at a place about one hundred yards from Chikubu Island, sunk the stone to the bottom.

Nagamasa spoke fearlessly, facing the death that pressed in on him, and he had not overlooked the laxity of the martial spirit of those soldiers who had put their hopes on peace talks. His "funeral for the living" had a salutary effect on the faltering morale of the defenders. If their lord was resolved to die in battle, they too were resolved to follow him. It was time to die. Nagamasa's pathetic determination thus inspired his retainers. But although he was a gifted general, he was not a genius. Nagamasa did not know how to make his men die gladly for him. They stood, waiting for the final assault.


The Gateless Gate | Taiko | Three Princesses