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The Towers of Azuchi

The Emperor had appointed Nobunaga to the court rank of Councillor of State not long before, and now he had been named General of the Right. The congratulatory ceremony for this latest promotion was conducted during the Eleventh Month with a pomp that exceeded anything seen in preceding eras.

Nobunaga's lodgings in the capital were in the shogun's former palace at Nijo. Guests crowded into the palace every day: courtiers, samurai, tea masters, poets, and merchants from the nearby trading cities of Naniwa and Sakai.

Mitsuhide had planned on leaving Nobunaga and returning to his castle in Tamba and while it was still light, he had come to the Nijo Palace from his own lodgings to take his leave.

"Mitsuhide," Hideyoshi greeted him with a broad smile.

"Hideyoshi?" Mitsuhide answered with a laugh.

"What brings you here today?" Hideyoshi asked, taking Mitsuhide by the arm.

"Oh, just that His Lordship is leaving tomorrow," Mitsuhide said with a grin.

That's right. Where do you suppose we'll meet again?"

"Are you drunk?"

"There's not a day I don't get drunk while I'm in the capital. His Lordship drinks more when he's here, too. In fact, if you went to see him now he'd make you drink quite bit of sake ."

Is he having another drinking party?" Mitsuhide asked.

Certainly Nobunaga had been drinking more recently, and an old retainer, who had served Nobunaga for many years, had remarked that Nobunaga had never drunk to the extent that he did now.

Hideyoshi always took part in these revelries, but he did not have Nobunaga's resistance.

Nobunaga seemed to have the more delicate constitution, but he was by far the stronger of the two men. If you looked carefully, you could see his spiritual strength. Hideyoshi was just the opposite. Outwardly he seemed a healthy countryman, but he did not have real stamina.

His mother still lectured him about neglecting his health: "It's fine to have a good time, but please take care of your health. You were sickly from the time you were born, and until you were four or five years old, none of the neighbors thought you would live to be an adult."

Her concern had an effect on Hideyoshi, because he knew the reason for his weakness as a youth. When his mother had been pregnant with him, their poverty had been such that they had sometimes had no food on the table, and this state of adversity had surely affected his growth in the womb.

The fact that he had been able to survive was due almost solely to his mother's devotion. Thus, while he certainly did not dislike sake, he would recall his mother's words every time he held a cup in his hands. And he could hardly forget the times when his mother had cried so much because of her drunkard husband.

No one, however, would have thought he took drinking so seriously. People said of him, "He doesn't drink much, but he sure loves drinking parties. And when he does drink, he drinks freely." In fact, there was no one more prudent than Hideyoshi. And speaking of drinking, it was Mitsuhide, whom he now met in the corridor, who had just been doing a good bit of it himself. Nevertheless, Mitsuhide looked disappointed, and it was clear that Nobunaga's drinkingjust now confirmed by Hideyoshiwas troubling his retainers a great deal.

Hideyoshi laughed and denied what he had just said. "No, that was a joke." Amused at Mitsuhide's wavering there so seriously, he shook his red face. "The truth is, I was just having fun with you a little. The drinking party is over, and the proof is that here I am, leaving intoxicated. And that's a lie too," he laughed.

"Ah, you're a bad man." Mitsuhide forced a smile. He tolerated Hideyoshi's teasing, for he did not dislike him. Neither did Hideyoshi hold any ill feelings toward Mitsuhide. He always joked freely with his sober-minded colleague, but at the same time he respected him when respect was required.

For his part, Mitsuhide seemed to acknowledge that Hideyoshi was a useful man. Hideyoshi was just a bit ahead of Mitsuhide in seniority and was above him in the seating at field staff headquarters, but like the other veteran generals, Mitsuhide was proud of his own family status, bloodline, and education. Certainly he did not take Hideyoshi lightly, but he somehow manifested a condescending attitude toward his senior with such comments as, "You're a likable man."

This condescension was due, of course, to Mitsuhide's character. But even when Hideyoshi felt that he was being condescended to, he didn't feel unhappy. On the contrary, he considered it natural to be looked down upon by a man of superior intellect such as Mitsuhide. He was comfortable acknowledging of Mitsuhide's great superiority in terms of intellect, education, and background.

"Ah, that's right. I forgot something," Hideyoshi said, as if he had suddenly remembered. "I should congratulate you. Being awarded the province of Tamba should make you happy for a while. But I think it's natural after so many years of devoted service. I pray that this marks the beginning of better fortune for you, and that you prosper for many years to come."

"No, all of His Lordship's favors are honors beyond my station." Mitsuhide always returned courtesy for courtesy with great seriousness. But then he continued. "Even though I've been granted a province, it used to be held by the former shogun, and even now there are a good number of powerful local clans who have shut themselves in behind their walls and are refusing to submit to my authority. So congratulations are a little premature."

"No, no, you're too modest," Hideyoshi protested. "As soon as you moved into Tamba with Hosokawa Fujitaka and his son, the Kameyama clan capitulated, so you've already had results, haven't you? I observed with interest the way you took Kameyama, and even His Lordship praised you for the skill with which you subjugated the enemy and took the castle without losing a single man."

"Kameyama was just the beginning. The real difficulties are yet to come."

"Life is worth living only when we have difficulties in front of us. Otherwise there's no incentive. And nothing could be sweeter than having restored peace to a new domain given to you by His Lordship and governing it well. Why, you'll be master there yourself and able to do anything you like," Hideyoshi said.

Suddenly both men felt that this chance meeting had lasted much too long.

"Well, until we meet again," Mitsuhide said.

"Wait just a minute," Hideyoshi said, and suddenly changed the subject. "You're a learned man, so perhaps you'll know this. Among the castles in Japan right now, how many have donjons, and in which provinces are they?"

"The castle of Satomi Yoshihiro, at Tateyama in the province of Awa, has a three-story donjon that can be seen from the sea. Also, at Yamaguchi in the province of Suo, Ouchi Yoshioki built a four-story donjon at his main castle. It is probably the most imposing in all of Japan."

"Only those two?"

"As far as I know. But why are you asking about this now?"

"Well, today I was with His Lordship, talking about various castle designs, and Master Mori was eagerly explaining the advantages of donjons. He strongly advocated including one in the design of the castle that Lord Nobunaga will be building at Azuchi."

"Huh? Which Master Mori?"

"His Lordship's page, Ranmaru."

Mitsuhide's brow furrowed for a moment. "Are you a bit doubtful about this?"

"Not especially."

Mitsuhide's face quickly returned to a nonchalant expression, and he changed the subject and chatted for a few minutes. He finally excused himself and hurried off toward the interior of the palace.

"Lord Hideyoshi! Lord Hideyoshi!"

The great corridor of the Nijo Palace was busy with people coming and going to visit Lord Nobunaga. Again, someone called.

Well, Reverend Asayama," Hideyoshi said as he turned around with a smile.

Asayama Nichijo was an uncommonly ugly man. Araki Murashige, one of Nobunaga's generals, was noted for his ugliness, but at least he had a certain charm. Asayama, on the other hand, was only an oily-looking priest. He approached Hideyoshi and quickly lowered his voice as though he were privy to some important matter.

"Lord Hideyoshi?"

"Yes, what is it?"

"You seemed to be having a confidential discussion with Lord Mitsuhide just now."

"Confidential discussion?" Hideyoshi laughed. "Is this the place for a confidential discussion?"

"When Lord Hideyoshi and Lord Mitsuhide whisper for a long time in the corridors of Nijo Palace, people are going to be startled."

"Surely not."

"No, absolutely!"

"Is Your Reverence a little drunk too?"

"Quite a bit. I drank too much. But really, you should be more careful."

"You mean with sake?"

"Don't be a fool. I'm cautioning you to be more discreet about being on familiar terms with Mitsuhide."

"Why?"

"He's a little too intelligent."

"Why, everybody says that you're the most intelligent man in Japan today."

"Me? No, I'm much too slow," the priest demurred.

"By no means," Hideyoshi assured him. "Your Reverence is quite knowledgeable in just about everything. The samurai's weakest points are in his dealings with the nobility or with powerful merchants, but no one surpasses you in shrewdness among the men of the Oda clan. Why, even Lord Katsuie is quite awestruck by your talents."

"But on the other hand, I've achieved no military exploits at all."

"In the construction of the Imperial Palace, in the administration of the capital, in various financial affairs, you have shown an uncanny genius."

"Are you praising or disparaging me?"

"Well now, you are both a prodigy and a good-for-nothing in the samurai class, and speaking honestly, I will both praise you and disparage you."

"I'm no match for you." Asayama laughed aloud, showing the gaps where he had lost two or three of his teeth. Though Asayama was much older than Hideyoshiold enough to be his fatherhe thought of Hideyoshi as his senior.

Asayama could not accept Mitsuhide so easily. He recognized that Mitsuhide was intelligent, but he was unnerved by Mitsuhide's dry wit.

"I was thinking that it was just my own imagination," Asayama said, "but recently a person famous for discerning men's personalities from their features has expressed the same opinion."

"A physiognomist has made some sort of judgment about Mitsuhide?"

"He's not a physiognomist. Abbot Ekei is one of the most profound scholars of the age. He told me this in the utmost secrecy."

"Told you what?"

"That Mitsuhide has the look of a wise man who could drown in his own wisdom. Moreover, there are evil signs that he will supplant his own lord."

"Asayama."

"What?"

"You're not going to enjoy your old age if you let things like that out of your mouth, Hideyoshi said sharply. "I've heard that Your Reverence is a shrewd politician, but I suspect that a political hobby should not be pushed as far as spreading such talk about one of His Lordship's retainers."

* * *

The pages had spread out a large map of Omi in the wide room.

"Here's the inner section of Lake Biwa!" one said.

"There's the Sojitsu Temple! And the Joraku Temple!" another exclaimed.

The pages sat together on one side and craned their necks to look, just like baby swallows. Ranmaru separated himself from the group and sat modestly on his own. He was not yet twenty, but he had long passed the age of a man's coming-of-age ceremony. If his forelock had been shaved, he would have had the appearance of a fine young samurai

"You just stay the way you are," Nobunaga had said. "I want you as a page, no matter how old you get."

Ranmaru could compete with other boys in terms of grace, and his topknot and silk garments were those of a child.

Nobunaga studied the map carefully. "It's well drawn." he said. "It's even more accurate than our military maps. Ranmaru, How did you come up with such a detailed map in such a short time?"

"My mother, who is now in holy orders, knew that there was a map in the secret storehouse of a certain temple."

Ranmaru's mother, who had taken the name Myoko when she had become a nun, was the widow of Mori Yoshinari. Her five sons had been taken in by Nobunaga as retainers. Ranmaru's two younger brothers, Bomaru and Rikimaru, were also pages. Everyone said that there was very little similarity among them. It wasn't that his brothers were dull children, but that Ranmaru was outstanding. And this was not just in the eyes of Nobunaga, whose affection for him was unending. It was obvious to anyone who saw him that Ranmaru's intelligence stood far above that of the others. When he frequented the generals of the field staff or the senior retainers, he was never treated like a child, regardless of his clothes.

"What? You got this from Myoko?" Nobunaga suddenly fixed an unusual stare on Ranmaru. "She's a nun, so it's natural that she should be going back and forth to a number of the temples, but she shouldn't be deceived by the spies of the warrior-monks who are still chanting curses against me. Perhaps you should look for the right time and then give her a warning."

She's always been very careful. Even more so than I, my lord."

Nobunaga stooped down and studied the map of Azuchi intently. It was here that he would build a castle as his new residence and seat of government.

This was something of which Nobunaga had spoken only just recently, a decision he had made because the location of Gifu Castle no longer suited his purposes. The land that Nobunaga had really wanted was in Osaka. But on it stood the Honganji, the stronghold of his bitter enemies, the warrior-monks.

After studying the foolishness of the shoguns, Nobunaga did not even consider setting up a government in Kyoto. That had been the old state of affairs. Azuchi was closer to his ideal: from there he could guard against the provinces to the west as well as check the advances of Uesugi Kenshin from the north.

Lord Mitsuhide is in the waiting room, and says he would like to speak with you before his departure," a samurai announced from the door.

'Mitsuhide?" Nobunaga said good-humoredly. "Show him in." And he continued studying the map of Azuchi.

Mitsuhide came in with a sigh of relief. There was no smell of sake in the place, after all, and his first thought was, Hideyoshi got me again.

Mitsuhide, come over here."

Nobunaga ignored the man's courteous bow and beckoned him over to the map. Mitsuhide edged forward respectfully.

"I hear that you've been thinking of nothing but plans for a new castle, my lord," he said affably.

Nobunaga may have been a dreamer, but he was a dreamer who was second to none in executive ability.

"What do you think? Isn't this mountainous region facing the lake just right for a castle?"

Nobunaga, it seemed, had already designed the structure and scale of the castle in his head. He drew a line with his finger. "It's going to stretch from here to here. We'll build a town around the castle at the bottom of the mountain, with a quarter for the merchants that will be better organized than in any other province in Japan," he said. "I'm going to devote all the resources I have to this castle. I've got to have something here imposing enough to overawe all the other lords. It won't be extravagant, but it's going to be a castle that will have no equal in the Empire. My castle will combine beauty, function, and dignity."

Mitsuhide recognized that this project was not a product of Nobunaga's vanity nor some high-flown amusement, so he expressed his feelings honestly. His overly serious answer, however, did not suffice; Nobunaga was too accustomed to showy responses in total agreement with him and to witty statements that only echoed his own.

"What do you think? No good?" Nobunaga asked uncertainly.

"I wouldn't say that at all."

"Do you think this is the right time?"

"I'd say this is very timely."

Nobunaga was trying to bolster his self-confidence. There was no one who regarded Misuhide's intelligence more highly than he did. Not only did Mitsuhide have a modern intelligence, but he had also faced political problems too difficult to surmount on conviction alone. Thus, Nobunaga was even more aware of Mitsuhide's genius than was Hideyoshi, who praised him so highly.

"I've heard that you're quite conversant with the science of castle construction. Could you take care of this responsibility?"

"No, no. My knowledge is not sufficient to build a castle."

"Not sufficient?"

"Building a castle is like fighting a great battle. The man in charge must be able to use both men and materials with ease. You should really assign this duty to one of your veteran generals."

"And who would that be?" Nobunaga asked.

"Lord Niwa would be most suitable because he gets along so well with others."

"Niwa? Yes he'd be good." This opinion seemed to agree with Nobunaga's own intentions, and he nodded vigorously. "By the way, Ranmaru has suggested that I build a donjon. What do you think of the idea?"

Mitsuhide did not answer. He could see Ranmaru out of the corner of his eye. "Are you asking me about the pros and cons of building a donjon, my lord?" he asked.

"That's right. Is it better to have one or not to have one?"

"It's better to have one, of course. Even if only from the standpoint of the dignity of the structure."

"There must be various styles of donjon. I've heard that when you were young, you traveled through the country extensively and acquired a detailed knowledge of castle construction."

"My knowledge of such things is really very shallow," Mitsuhide said humbly. "On the other hand, Ranmaru over there should be quite well versed in the subject. When I toured the country, I only saw two or three castles with donjons, and even those were of extremely crude construction. If this is Ranmaru's suggestion, he certainly must have some thoughts on the subject." Mitsuhide seemed to be hesitant to speak further.

Nobunaga, however, did not even consider the delicate sensitivities of the two men, and went on artlessly, "Ranmaru, you're no less a scholar than Mitsuhide, and you've done some research in castle construction, it seems. What are your thoughts on the building of a donjon? Well, Ranmaru?" After an embarrassed silence from the page, he asked, "Why don't you answer?"

"I'm too confused, my lord."

"Why is that?"

"I'm embarrassed," he said and prostrated himself with his face over both hands as though he had been deeply shamed. "Lord Mitsuhide is unkind. Why should I have any original ideas about donjon construction? To tell the truth, my lord, everything you heard from meeven the fact that the castles of the Ouchi and Satomi both have donjons was told me by Lord Mitsuhide one night on guard duty."

"Well then, it wasn't your idea after all."

"I thought you would be annoyed if I confessed that every bit of it was someone else's idea, so I just rambled on and suggested building a donjon."

"Is that so?" Nobunaga laughed. "That's all there is to it?"

"But Lord Mitsuhide didn't take it that way," Ranmaru went on. "His answer just now made it sound as if I had stolen someone else's ideas. Lord Mitsuhide himself told me that he had some valuable illustrations of the Ouchi and Satomi donjons and even a rare sketchbook. So why should he be so reserved and shift the onus to an inexperienced person like me?"

Although Ranmaru looked like a child, it was clear that he was a man.

"Is that right, Mitsuhide?" Nobunaga asked.

With Nobunaga looking directly at him, Mitsuhide was unable to remain calm. He stammered out, "Yes." Neither was he able to control his resentment of Ranmaru. He had purposely withheld his own opinions and spoken up for Ranmaru's erudition because he knew of Nobunaga's affection for the young man and was secretly expressing his own goodwill toward him. He had not only been letting Ranmaru hand the flower to his lord but had taken pains not to embarrass him.

Mitsuhide had told Ranmaru all he knew of donjon and castle construction during the leisure hours of a night watch. It was absurd that Ranmaru had related it all to Nobunaga as though it were his own idea. If he plainly said that now, however, Ranmaru would be all the more embarrassed, and Nobunaga would really be disgusted. Thinking that avoiding such an unhappy situation would also be to his own benefit, he had given the credit to Ranmaru. But the result had been exactiy the opposite of what he had planned. At this point he could not help feeling a chill move down his back at the perversity of this adult in child's clothing.

Seeing his perplexity, Nobunaga seemed to understand what was going on in Mitsuhide's mind. Suddenly he laughed out loud. "Even Mitsuhide can be unbecomingly prudent. At any rate, do you have those illustrations at hand?"

"I have a few, but I wonder if they will suffice."

"They will. Loan them to me for a little while."

"I'll get them for you right away."

Mitsuhide blamed himself for having told even the smallest lie to Nobunaga, and though the matter had ended, he was the one who had suffered. When the subject changed to the castles of the various provinces and other chitchat, however, Nobunaga's mood was still good. After dinner was served, Mitsuhide withdrew without any ill feeling.

The next morning, after Nobunaga had left Nijo, Ranmaru went to see his mother.

"Mother, I heard from both my younger brother and the other attendants that Lord Mitsuhide had told His Lordship that because you go in and out of temples, you might leak military secrets to the warrior-monks. So yesterday, when he was in attendance on his Lordship, I sent him a little arrow of retribution. At any rate, since my father passed away, our family has received far more kindness from His Lordship than others have, so Im afraid people are jealous. Be careful and don't trust anyone."

* * *

Immediately after the New Year's celebrations of the fourth year of Tensho, the construction of the castle at Azuchi was begun, along with a project for a castle town of unprecedented size. Craftsmen gathered at Azuchi with their apprentices and workmen. They came from the capital and Osaka, from the faraway western provinces, and even from the east and north: smiths, stonemasons, plasterers, metalworkers, and even wallpaper hangersrepresentatives of every craft in the nation.

The famous Kano Eitoku was selected to illustrate the doors, sliding partitions, and ceilings. For this project, Kano did not simply rely on the traditions of his own school. Rather, he consulted with the masters of each school and then created the masterpieces of a lifetime, sending brilliant shafts of light into the world of the arts, which had been in decline during the many years of civil war.

The mulberry fields disappeared in a single night, becoming a well laid-out street plan, while on top of the mountain, the framework of the donjon appeared almost before people were aware of it. The main citadel, modeled after the mythical Mount Meru, had four towersrepresenting the Kings of the Four Directionsaround the central five-story donjon. Below it stood a huge stone edifice, and leading off from this were annexes. Above and below there were more than one hundred related structures, and it was difficult to tell how many stories each structure comprised.

In the Plum Tree Room, the Room of the Eight Famous Scenes, the Pheasant Room, and the Room of Chinese Children, the painter applied his art with no time for sleep. The master lacquerer, who hated even the mention of dust, lacquered the vermilion handrails and the black walls. A Chinese-born ceramicist was appointed master tilemaker. The smoke from his lakeside kiln rose into the air day and night.

A solitary priest mumbled to himself as he gazed at the castle. He was only a traveling monk, but his heavy brow and wide mouth gave him an unusual look.

"Isn't it Ekei?" Hideyoshi asked, patting the man gently on the shoulder so as not to startle him. Hideyoshi had detached himself from a group of generals standing a little way off.

"Well, well, now! Lord Hideyoshi!"

"I wouldn't have expected to find you here," Hideyoshi said cheerfully. He patted Ekei's shoulder again, and then smiled affectionately. "It's been a long time since we last met. I believe it was at Master Koroku's house in Hachisuka."

"Yes, that's right. Not long agoI think it was at the end of the year at Nijo Palace I overheard Lord Mitsuhide say that you had come to the capital. I came with an envoy from Lord Mori Terumoto, and stayed in Kyoto for a while. The envoy has already returned home, but since I'm just a country priest with no urgent business, I've been stopping here and there at temples both in and out of Kyoto. I thought Lord Nobunaga's present construction project would make a good travel story back home, so I stopped to take a look. I must say I'm very impressed."

"Your Reverence is involved in some construction, too, I hear," Hideyoshi remarked abruptly. Ekei looked startled, but Hideyoshi laughed, adding, "No, no. Not a castle. I understand you're building a monastery, called Ankokuji."

"Ah, the monastery." Ekei's face relaxed, and he laughed. "Ankokuji has already been completed. I'll hope you'll find time to visit me there, though I fear that as the master of Nagahama Castle your schedule will not allow it."

I may have become the lord of a castle, but my stipend is still low, so neither my position nor my mouth carries much weight. But I'll bet I look a little more grown up than when you last saw me in Hachisuka."

"No, you haven't changed a bit. You're young, Lord Hideyoshi, but then almost everyone on Lord Nobunaga's field staff is in the prime of life. I've been struck from the very first by the grandeur of the plan for his castle and by the spirit of his generals. He seems to have the force of the rising sun."

"Ankokuji was paid for by Lord Terumoto of the western provinces, was it not? His own province is wealthy and strong, and I suspect that even in terms of men of talent, Lord Nobunaga's clan is no match."

Ekei seemed anxious not to become involved in such a conversation, and once again he praised the construction of the donjon and the superb view of the area.

Finally, Hideyoshi said, "Nagahama is on the coast just north of here. My boat is berrthed nearby, so why don't you come and stay for a night or two? I've been granted some leave, and I thought I'd go back to Nagahama."

Ekei used this invitation to make a hasty withdrawal. "No, perhaps I'll call on you at another time. Please give my regards to Master Koroku, or rather Master Hikoemon, that is, now that he's one of your retainers." And he suddenly walked off.

As Hideyoshi watched Ekei go, two monks, who seemed to be his disciples, came out from a commoner's house and chased after him.

Accompanied only by Mosuke, Hideyoshi went to the construction site, which had the look of a battlefield. As he had not been assigned important responsibilities in the building work, he did not have to stay permanently in Azuchi, nevertheless he made frequent trips from Nagahama to Azuchi by ship.

"Lord Hideyoshi! Lord Hideyoshi!" Someone was calling him. Looking around, he saw Ranmaru, displaying a beautiful line of white teeth in his smiling mouth, running toward him.

"Well now, Master Ranmaru. Where is His Lordship?"

"He was at the donjon all morning, but he's now resting at the Sojitsu Temple."

"Well, let's go over there."

"Lord Hideyoshi, that monk you were just now talking towasn't he Ekei, the famous physiognomist?"

"That's right. I've heard that from someone else. I wonder if a physiognomist can really see a man's true character," Hideyoshi said, pretending that he had little interest in the subject.

Whenever Ranmaru spoke with Hideyoshi, he did not guard his words as he did with Mitsuhide. This did not mean Ranmaru thought that Hideyoshi was an easy mark, but there were times when the older man played the fool, and Ranmaru found him easy to get along with.

"A physiognomist really can tell!" Ranmaru said. "My mother says that all the time. Just before my father died in battle, one of them predicted his death. And the fact is, well, Im interested in something Ekei said."

"Have you had him look at you?"

"No, no. It's not about me." He looked up and down the street, and said confidentially, "It's about Lord Mitsuhide."

"Lord Mitsuhide?"

"Ekei said there were some evil signs: that he looked like a man who would turn against his lord."

"If you look for that quality, you'll find it. But not just in Lord Mitsuhide."

"No, really! Ekei said so."

Hideyoshi listened with a grin. Many people would have censured Ranmaru for being an unscrupulous rumormonger, but when he talked like this, he seemed not much more than a freshly weaned child. After Hideyoshi had humored him for a while, he asked Ranmaru more seriously, "Who in the world did you hear these things from?"

Ranmaru prompdy took him into his confidence, replying, "Asayama Nichijo."

Hideyoshi nodded his head as though he could well imagine.

"Asayama didn't tell you this himself, did he? Certainly it must have gone through someone else. Let me see if I can guess."

"Go ahead."

"Was it your mother?"

"How did you know?"

Hideyoshi laughed.

"No, really. How did you know?" Ranmaru pressed.

"Myoko would believe such things from the outset," Hideyoshi said. "No, it might be better to say that she's fond of such things. And she's on familiar terms with Asayama. If it were up to me, however, I would say that Ekei is more proficient at looking into the physiognomy of a province than into that of a man."

"The physiognomy of a province?"

"If judging a man's character from observing his features can be called physiognomy, then judging a province's character by the same method could be called the same thing. I've realized that Ekei has mastered that art. You shouldn't get too close to men like him. He may look like nothing more than a monk, but he's really in the pay of Mori Terumoto, lord of the western provinces. What do you think, Ranmaru? Aren't I much better man Ekei at the study of physiognomy?" he laughed.

The gate to the Sojitsu Temple came into view. The two men were still laughing as they climbed the stone steps.

The construction of the castle was progressing visibly. By the end of the Second Month of that year, Nobunaga had already vacated Gifu and moved. Gifu Castle was given to Nobunaga's eldest son, the nineteen-year-old Nobutada.

However, while Azuchi Castleincomparable in strength and announcing the beginning of an entirely new epoch in castle constructiontowered so loftily over this strategic crossroads, there were those who were greatly concerned about its military valueamong them the warrior-monks of the Honganji, Mori Terumoto of the western provinces, and Uesugi Kenshin of Echigo.

Azuchi stood on the road that ran from Echigo to Kyoto. Kenshin, of course, also had designs on the capital. If the right opportunity presented itself, he would cross the mountains, come out north of Lake Biwa, and, at a stroke, raise his banners in Kyoto.

The ousted shogun, Yoshiaki, of whom there had been no news for some time, sent letters to Kenshin, trying to incite him to action.

Only the exterior of Azuchi Castle has been finished. Realistically, the completion of its interior will take another two and a half years. Once the castle is built, you might as well say that the road between Echigo and Kyoto will have ceased to exist.

Now is the time to strike. I will tour the provinces and forge an alliance of all the anti-Nobunaga forces, which will include Lord Terumoto of the western provinces, the Hojo, the Takeda, and your own clan in Echigo. If you do not take a spirited stand as the leader of this alliance first, however, I do not anticipate any success at all.

Kenshin forced a smile, thinking, Does this little sparrow plan to dance until he's a hundred years old? Kenshin was not the kind of soft-witted leader who would fall for such a ploy.

From the New Year into the summer, Kenshin moved his men into Kaga and Noto, and began to threaten the Oda borders. A relief army was dispatched from Omi with the speed of lightning. With Shibata Katsuie in command, the forces of Takigawa, Hideyoshi, Niwa, Sassa, and Maeda chased the enemy and burned the villages they would use as protection as far as Kanatsu.

A messenger came from Kenshin's camp and shouted loudly that the letter he brought should be read only by Nobunaga.

"This is undoubtedly written in Kenshin's own hand," Nobunaga said as he broke the seal himself.

I have long heard of your fame and regret that I have not yet had the pleasure of meeting you. Now would seem the best opportunity. If we should miss each other in the fighting, we would both regret it for many years to come. The battle has been set for tomorrow morning at the Hour of the Hare. I will meet you at the Kanatsu River. Everything will be settled when we meet man to man.

It was a formal challenge to battle.

"What happened to the envoy?" Nobunaga asked.

"He left right away," the retainer replied.

Nobunaga was unable to conceal a shudder. That night he suddenly announced that he would strike camp, and his forces withdrew.

Kenshin got a big laugh out of this later on. "Isn't that just what you'd expect from Nobunaga! If he had stayed where he was, the next day he could have left everything to my horse's hooves, and along with meeting him, I could have done him the favor of cutting his head off right there at the river."

But Nobunaga quickly returned to Azuchi with a squad of his soldiers. When he thought about Kenshin's old-fashioned letter of challenge, he couldn't help grinning.

"That's probably how he lured Shingen at Kawanakajima. He certainly is a fearless man. He has great pride in that long sword of his, fashioned by Azuki Nagamitsu; I don't think I'd want to see it with my own eyes. How sad for Kenshin that he wasn't borrn during the colorful olden days when they wore scarlet-braided armor with gold plates. I wonder what he thinks of Azuchi, with its mixture of Japanese, Southern Barbarian, and Chinese styles? All of the changes in weaponry and strategy in the last decade have brought us into a new world. How could anyone say the art of war hasn't changed too? He's probably laughing at my retreat as cowardice, but I can't help laughing at the fact at his outdated thinking is inferior to that of my artisans and craftsmen."

Those who truly heard this learned a great deal. There were those, however, who were taught, but never learned a thing.

After Nobunaga returned to Azuchi, he was told that something had occurred during the northern campaign between the commander-in-chief, Shibata Katsuie, and Hideyoshi. The cause was unclear, but a quarrel had been brewing between the two of them over strategy. The result of it was that Hideyoshi had collected his troops and returned to Nagahama while Katsuie quickly appealed to Nobunaga, saying, "Hideyoshi felt it unnecessary to comply with your orders and returned to his own castle. His behavior is inexcusable, and he should be punished."

No word came from Hideyoshi. Thinking that Hideyoshi must have had some plausible explanation for his actions, Nobunaga planned on handling the matter by waiting until all the generals had returned from the northern campaign. Rumors, however, came in one after another.

"Lord Katsuie is extraordinarily angry."

"Lord Hideyoshi is a bit quick-tempered. Pulling out one's troops during a campaign is not something a great general can do and keep his honor."

Finally, Nobunaga had an attendant look into the matter.

"Has Hideyoshi really returned to Nagahama?" he asked.

"Yes, he seems to be quite definitely in Nagahama," the attendant replied.

Nobunaga was provoked to anger, and sent an envoy with a stern rebuke. "This is insolent behavior. Before anything else, show some penitence!"

When the messenger returned, Nobunaga asked, "What kind of expression did he have when he heard my reprimand?"

"He looked as though he were thinking, I see.'"

"Is that all?"

"Then he said something about resting for a while."

"He is audacious, and he's becoming presumptuous." Nobunaga's expression did not show real resentment toward Hideyoshi, even though he had censured him verbally. Nevertheless, when Katsuie and the other generals of the northern campaign had finally returned, Nobunaga became truly angry.

First of all, even though Hideyoshi had been ordered to remain under house arrest in Nagahama Castle, instead of manifesting his penitence, he was having drinking parties every day. There was no reason for Nobunaga not to be angry, and people conjectured that at worst, Hideyoshi would be ordered to commit seppuku, and at best he would probably be ordered to Azuchi Castle to face a court-martial. But after a while Nobunaga seemed to forget all about it and later never even mentioned the incident.

* * *

In Nagahama Castle, Hideyoshi had gotten into the habit of sleeping late. Certainly, by the time Nene saw her husband's face every morning, the sun was high in the sky.

Even his mother seemed worried and commented to Nene, "That boy just isn't himself these days, is he?"

Nene had trouble finding an answer. The reason he was sleeping late was that he was drinking every night. When he drank at home, he would quickly turn bright red after four or five small cups, and hurry through his meal. Then he would gather together his veterans and, as everyone's spirits rose, would drink late into the night, unmindful of the hour. The result was that he would fall asleep in the pages' room. One night, when his wife was walking down the main corridor with her ladies-in-waiting, she saw a man walking slowly toward her. The man looked like Hideyoshi, but she called out, "Who is that over there?" pretending not to know him.

Her surprised husband turned around and tried to hide his confusion, but succeeded only in looking as though he were practicing some sort of dance. "I'm lost." He lurched over to her and steadied himself by grabbing her shoulder. "Ah, I'm drunk. Nene, carry me! I can't walk!"

When Nene saw how he was trying to hide his predicament, she burst out laughing. She spoke to him with feigned ill temper. "Sure, sure, I'll carry you. Where are you going, by the way?" Hideyoshi got up on her back and began to giggle.

"To your room. Take me to your room!" he implored, and kicked his heels in the air like a child.

Nene, her back bent at the weight, joked with her ladies, "Listen, everyone, where shall I put this sooty traveler I just picked up on the road?"

The ladies were so amused they were holding their sides as tears streamed down their cheeks. Then, like revelers around a festival float, they surrounded the man Nene had picked up, and amused themselves all night in Nene's room.

Such events were rare. In the mornings, it quite often seemed to Nene that her role was to look at her husband's sullen face. What was it that he was concealing inside of himself? They had been married for fifteen years. Nene was now past thirty, and her husband was forty-one. She was unable to believe that Hideyoshi's bitter expression every morning was simply a matter of mood. While she dreaded her husband's bad temper, what she earnestly prayed for was the ability to somehow understand his afflictionseven just a littleand to assuage his suffering.

In times like this, Nene considered Hideyoshi's mother to be a model of strength. One morning her mother-in-law rose early and went out into the vegetable garden in the north enclosure while the dew was still heavy on the ground.

"Nene," she said, "it'll be a while before the master gets up. Let's pick some eggplants in the garden while we have the time. Bring a basket!"

The old lady began to pick the eggplants. Nene filled one basket, and then carried over another.

"Hey, Nene! Are you and Mother both out here?"

It was the voice of her husbandthe husband who so rarely got up early these days.

"I didn't realize you were up," Nene apologized.

"No, I suddenly woke up. Even the pages were flustered." Hideyoshi wore a bright smile, a sight she had not seen for some time. "Takenaka Hanbei reported that a ship with an envoy's banner is on its way from Azuchi. I got up immediately, paid my respects to the castle shrine, and then came here to apologize for neglecting you in recent days."

"Aha! You've apologized to the gods!" his mother chuckled.

"That's right. Then I have to apologize to my mother, and even to my wife, I think," he said with great seriousness.

"You came all the way here for that?"

"Yes, and if you would only understand how I feel, I wouldn't have to go through the form of doing this anymore."

"Oh, this boy is cunning." His mother laughed outright.

Although Hideyoshi's mother was probably somewhat suspicious of her son's suddenly cheerful behavior, she was soon to understand the reason.

"Master Maeda and Master Nonomura have just arrived at the castle gate as official messengers from Azuchi. Master Hikoemon went out immediately and led them to the guests' reception room," Mosuke announced.

Hideyoshi dismissed the page and began picking eggplants with his mother. "They're really ripening well, aren't they? Did you put the manure along the dirt ridges yourself, Mother?"

"Shouldn't you be hurrying off to see His Lordship's messengers?" she asked.

"No, I pretty much know why they've come, so there's no need to get flustered. I think I'll pick a few eggplants. It would be nice to show Lord Nobunaga their shiny emerald color, covered with the morning dew."

"You're going to give things like this to the envoys as presents for Lord Nobunaga?"

"No, no, I'm going to take them this morning myself."

"What!"

Hideyoshi had, after all, incurred his lord's displeasure and was supposed to be penitent. This morning his mother began to have doubts about him and soon was almost worried to distraction.

"My lord? Are you coming?" Hanbei had come to hasten Hideyoshi, who finally left the eggplant field.

When the preparations for the trip had been made, Hideyoshi asked the envoys to accompany him back to Azuchi.

Hideyoshi suddenly stopped. "Oh! I've forgotten something! His Lordship's present." He sent a retainer to fetch the basket of eggplants. The eggplants had been covered with leaves, and morning dew still clung to the purple beneath. Carrying the basket with him, Hideyoshi boarded the ship.

The castle town of Azuchi was not yet a year old, but fully a third of it had been finished and was already bustling with prosperity. All travelers who stopped here were struck by the liveliness of this dazzling new city, its road spread with silver sand leading to the castle gate; the masonry steps made of huge stone blocks; the plastered walls and the burnished metal fittings.

And while the sight was indeed dazzling, the grandeur of the five-story donjon was beyond description, whether seen from the lake, from the streets of the town below, or even from within the castle grounds themselves.

Hideyoshi, you've come." Nobunaga's voice resounded from behind the closed sliding door. The room, set amid all the gold, red, and blue lacquer of Azuchi, was decorated with a simple ink painting.

Hideyoshi was still at some distance, prostrating himself in the next room.

"I suppose you've heard, Hideyoshi. I've set your punishment aside. Come in."

Hideyoshi edged forward from the next room with his basket of eggplants.

Nobunaga looked at him suspiciously. "What's that?"

"Well, I hope this will please you, my lord." Hideyoshi moved forward and put the eggplants in front of him. "My mother and wife grew these eggplants in the garden at the castle."

"Eggplants?"

"You may consider them a silly, strange present, but since I was traveling by fast ship, I thought you would be able to see them before the dew evaporated. I picked them from the field this morning."

"Hideyoshi, I suspect that what you wanted to show me was neither eggplants nor unevaporated dew. What exactly is it that you would like me to taste?"

"Please guess, my lord. I'm an unworthy servant and my merit is negligible, but you have elevated me from a simple farmer to a retainer who holds a domain of two hundred twenty thousand bushels. And yet my old mother never neglects taking up the hoe with her own hands, watering the vegetables, and putting manure around the gourds and eggplants. Every day I give thanks for the lessons she teaches me. Without even having to speak, she tells me, 'There's nothing more dangerous than a farmer rising up in the world, and you should get used to the fact that the envy and fault-finding of others comes from their own conceit. Don't forget your past in Nakamura, and always be mindful of the favors your lord has bestowed on you.'"

Nobunaga nodded, and Hideyoshi went on, "Do you think I could devise any strategy on a campaign that would not be to you benefit, my lord, when I have a mother like that? I consider her lessons as talismans. Even if I quarrel openly with the commander-in-chief, there is no duplicity in my breast."

At that point, a guest at Nobunaga's side slapped his thigh and said, "These eggplants are really a good present. We'll try them later on."

For the first time Hideyoshi noticed that someone else was in the room: a samurai who looked to be in his early thirties. The man's large mouth indicated the strength of his will. His brow was prominent, and the bridge of his nose was somewhat wide. It was difficult to say whether he was of peasant stock or simply robustly built, but the light in his eyes and the luster of his dark red skin showed that he possessed a strong inner vitality.

"Have Hideyoshi's mother's home-grown eggplants pleased you, too, Kanbei? I'm pretty happy with them myself," Nobunaga said, laughing, and then, growing serious, he introduced the guest to Hideyoshi.

"This is Kuroda Kanbei, the son of Kuroda Mototaka, chief retainer of Odera Masamoto in Harima."

Hearing this, Hideyoshi was unable to conceal his surprise. Kuroda Kanbei was a name he had been hearing constantly. Moreover, he had often seen his letters.

"My goodness! So you're Kuroda Kanbei."

"And you're the Lord Hideyoshi I'm always hearing about?"

"Always in letters."

"Yes, but I can't think of this as our first meeting."

"And now here I am, shamefully begging my lord for forgiveness. I'm afraid you're going to laugh at me: this is Hideyoshi, the man who's always being scolded by his lord. And he laughed with a voice that seemed to sweep everything away. Nobunaga laughed heartily, too. With Hideyoshi, he could laugh happily about things that were not actually very amusing.

The eggplants Hideyoshi had brought were quickly prepared, and very soon the three men were enjoying a drinking party. Kanbei was nine years younger than Hideyoshi, but was not the least bit inferior in his understanding of the current of the times or in his intuition of who would grasp supreme power in the land. He was nothing more than the son of a retainer of an influential clan in Harima, but he did possess a small castle in Himeji and had embraced a great ambition from early on in his life. Moreover, among all who lived in the western provinces, he was the only one who had gauged the trend of the times clearly enough to come to Nobunaga and secretly suggest the urgency of the conquest of that area.

The great power in the west was the Mori clan, whose sphere of influence extended over twenty provinces. Kanbei lived in the midst of them but was not overawed by their power. He perceived that the history of the nation was flowing in one direction. Armed with this insight, he had sought out one man: Nobunaga. From that point alone, it could hardly be said that he was a common man.

There is a saying that one great man will always recognize another. In their conversation at this one meeting, Hideyoshi and Kanbei were tied as tightly together as though they had known each other for a hundred years.


Sunset of Kai | Taiko | Monkey Marches West