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Monkey Marches West

Not long after his meeting with Kuroda Kanbei, Hideyoshi received a special assignment from Nobunaga.

"The truth is," Nobunaga began, "I'd like to risk my entire army on this expedition, but the situation won't permit that yet. For that reason I've chosen you as the one in whom I put all of my trust. You're to take three armies, lead them into the western provinces, and persuade the Mori clan to submit to me. This is a great responsibility that I know only you could take on. Will you do it?"

Hideyoshi was silent. He was so elated and so filled with gratitude that he was unable to answer immediately.

"I accept," he said finally with deep emotion.

This was only the second time Nobunaga had raised three armies and entrusted their command to one of his retainers. The first time was when he had put Katsuie in charge of the campaign in the northern provinces. But because it was so important and so difficult, an invasion of the western provinces could not be compared with the northern campaign.

Hideyoshi felt as though an incredible weight had been put on his shoulders. Observing Hideyoshi's unusually cautious expression, Nobunaga suddenly felt uneasy, wondering if this were not too heavy a responsibility for him after all. Does Hideyoshi have the confidence to take on this responsibility? he asked himself.

"Hideyoshi, will you go back to Nagahama Castle before you mobilize the troops?" Nobunaga asked. "Or would you prefer to leave from Azuchi?"

"With your permission, my lord, I will depart from Azuchi this very day."

"You have no regrets about leaving Nagahama?"

"None. My mother, my wife, and my foster son are there. What is there for me to feel unhappy about?"

The foster son was Nobunaga's fourth son, Tsugimaru, whom Hideyoshi was brining up.

Nobunaga laughed and then asked, "If this campaign is prolonged and your home province falls into the hands of your foster son, where are you going to make your own territory?"

"After I subjugate the west, I'll ask for it."

"And if I don't give it to you?"

"Perhaps I could conquer Kyushu and live there."

Nobunaga laughed heartily, forgetting his earlier misgivings.

Elated, Hideyoshi returned to his quarters and quickly told Hanbei of Nobunaga's orders. Hanbei immediately sent off a courier to Hikoemon, who was in charge of Nagahama in Hideyoshi's absence. Hikoemon marched through the night, leading an army to join his master. In the meantime, an urgent dispatch was circulated to all of Nobunagas generals, informing them of Hideyoshi's appointment.

When Hikoemon arrived in the morning and looked in at Hideyoshi's quarters, he found him alone, applying moxa to his shins.

"That's a good precaution for a campaign," Hikoemon said.

"I still have half a dozen scars on my back from when I was treated with moxa as a child," Hideyoshi answered, gnashing his teeth from the intense heat. "I don't like moxa because it burns, but if I didn't do this, my mother would worry. When you send news to Nagahama, please write that I'm applying moxa every day."

As soon as he finished the moxa treatment, Hideyoshi departed for the front. The troops that left the castle town of Azuchi that day were truly awe-inspiring. From his donjon, Nobunaga watched them leave. The Monkey from Nakamura has come far, he thought, countless deep emotions passing through his breast as he watched Hideyoshis standard of the golden gourd disappear into the distance.

The province of Harima was the jade pearl in this struggle between the dragon of the west and the tiger of the east. Would it ally itself with the newly arisen forces of the Oda? Would it side with the ancient power of the Mori?

Both the greater and the smaller clans of the western provinces that stretched from Harima to Hoki were now facing a difficult decision.

Some said, "The Mori are the mainstay of the west. Surely they will not fail."

Others, not so sure, countered, "No, we can't ignore the Oda's sudden rise to power.

People made up their minds by comparing the strength of the adversaries: territories on both sides, numbers of soldiers and of allies. In this case, however, given the immensity of Mori's influence and the vast possessions of the Oda, the strength of the two sides seemed about equally matched.

Which of them would make the future his own?

It was toward these western provinces lost between light and dark and unable to pick a course of action that Hideyoshi's troops marched on the twenty-third day of the Tenth Month.

To the west. To the west.

The responsibility was heavy. As Hideyoshi rode under his standard of the gold engourd, the face shaded by his visor was troubled. He was forty-one years old. His mouth was drawn into a large wordless frown as his horse trotted on stolidly. Wind-borne dust covered the entire army.

Periodically, Hideyoshi reminded himself that he was advancing on the western provinces. He would probably not have made so much of it himself, but when he had left Azuchi , Nobunaga's other generals had congratulated him.

"His Lordship has finally made up his mind and put you to use. Lord Hideyoshi, you've become second to none. You will have to repay His Lordship for his favors."

In contrast to this, Shibata Katsuie seemed extremely displeased. "What? He was made commander-in-chief of the western campaign!" Katsuie laughed derisively at the very idea.

It was easy to see why Katsuie thought that way. When Hideyoshi was still a servant, carrying Nobunaga's sandals and living in the stables with the horses, Katsuie had been a general of the Oda clan. Moreover, he had married Nobunaga's younger sister, and ruled a province of more than three hundred thousand bushels. Finally, when Katsuie was commander-in-chief of the northern campaign, Hideyoshi had disobeyed his orders and returned without warning to Nagahama. As a senior retainer, Katsuie now did a good bit of political maneuvering to put the invasion of the western provinces out of the limelight.

Mounted on his horse on the way to the western provinces, Hideyoshi chuckled to himself incessantly.

These things would suddenly come to mind as he lost interest in the peaceful westward road. Hideyoshi burst out laughing; Hanbei, who was riding along next to him, thought he had perhaps missed something and asked, "Did you say something thing, my Lord?" just to make sure.

"No, nothing," Hideyoshi answered.

His army had traveled a good distance that day, and they were already approaching the border of Harima.

"Hanbei, a certain pleasure awaits you when we enter Harima."

"Well now, what would that be?"

"I don't think you've met Kuroda Kanbei before."

"No, I haven't, but I've been hearing his name for a long time."

"He's a man of the times. When you meet him, you'll become fast friends, I think."

"I've heard a number of stories about him."

"He's the son of a senior retainer of the Odera clan, and is still in his early thirties."

"Wasn't this campaign conceived by Lord Kanbei?"

"That's right. He's an intelligent man with a keen eye."

"Do you know him well, my lord?"

"I've known him through letters, but I met him for the first time at Azuchi Castle a little while ago. We talked completely openly for half a day. Ah, I feel confident. With Takenaka Hanbei on my left and Kuroda Kanbei on my right, I've put together a field staff."

Just then, something caused a boisterous disorder among the troops behind them. Someone in the pages' corps was laughing loudly.

Hikoemon turned around and took Mosuke, the head page, to task. In turn, Mosuke yelled at the pages in the company. "Quiet! An army advances with dignity!"

When Hideyoshi asked what had happened, Hikoemon looked embarrassed. "Since I allowed the pages to ride, they're frolicking around in the ranks as though they were on a picnic. They're making a lot of noise and joking with each other, and even Mosuke is unable to control them. Perhaps it's better to make the pages walk, after all."

Hideyoshi forced a laugh and looked back. "They're in high spirits because they're young, and their playfulness would probably be difficult to control. Let them be. Nobody's fallen off his horse yet, has he?

"It seems that the youngest of them, Sakichi, is not used to riding, and someone thought it would be fun to make him fall off."

"Sakichi fell off his horse? Well, that's good training too."

The army marched on. The road entered Harima, and they finally arrived at Kasuya in the evening, just as they had planned.

Unlike Shibata Katsuie's gloomy leadership, which only respected regulations and form, or Nobunaga's severity and rigor, Hideyoshi's style of command was distinguished by one characteristic: cheerfulness. No matter what sort of hardship or desperate fighting beset his troops, they still radiated that cheerfulness and a harmonious sense that the entire army was one family.

Thus, while it was easy for this group of pages, made up of boys from eleven to sixteen, to disrupt military discipline, Hideyoshi, as the "head of the family," would just wink and say, "Let them be."

It began to grow dark as the vanguard quietly entered Harima, an allied province the middle of enemy territory. At a loss concerning what action to take, and under heavy pressure from their neighbors, the people of this province now lit bonfires and welcomed Hideyoshi's troops.

Hideyoshi's forces had taken the first step in the invasion of the western provinces. As the long column of troops entered the castle in double file, a clacking sound filled the evening. The first corps was made up of the banners; the second of the gunners; the third of the archers; the fourth of spears and lances; the fifth, of swordsmen and halberdiers. The central corps was made up of mounted men and officers who crowded around Hideyoshi. With the drummers, the standard bearers, the military police, the inspectors, the reserve horses, the packhorses, and the scouts, there were about seven thousand five hundred men altogether, and an onlooker could only see that this must be a formidable force indeed.

Kuroda Kanbei stood at the gate of Kasuya Castle and welcomed them. When Hideyoshi saw him, he quickly dismounted and walked up to him with a smile. Kanbei came forward too, with a shout of welcome and his hands extended. Greeting each other like friends who had known each other for years, they walked into the castle, and Kanbei introduced Hideyoshi to his new retainers. Each man gave his own name and swore an oath of loyalty to Hideyoshi.

Among them was one man who seemed to be of excellent character. "I am Yamanaka Shikanosuke," he introduced himself, "one of the few surviving retainers of the Amako clan. Until now we've fought side by side, but in different regiments, so we've never met. But my heart jumped when I heard you were invading the west, and I asked Lord Kanbe to put in a good word for me."

Even though Shikanosuke was kneeling, head bowed, Hideyoshi could see from the breadth of his shoulders that he was far taller and broader than average. When he stood up, he topped six feet, and he looked to be about thirty years old. His skin was like iron, and his eyes were as piercing as a hawk's. Hideyoshi looked at him for a moment as though he could not quite recall who the man was.

Kanbei helped him out. "This is a man whose loyalty is rare these days. He formerly served Amako Yoshihisa, a lord ruined by the Mori. For many years he has shown undying devotion and faithfulness in the most adverse circumstances. For the last ten years he has taken part in various battles and wandered from place to place, harassing the Mori with small forces, in an attempt to restore his former lord to his domain."

"Even I have heard of the loyal Yamanaka Shikanosuke. But what did you mean when you said we've been in different regiments?" Hideyoshi asked.

"During the campaign against the Matsunaga clan, I fought alongside the forces of Lord Mitsuhide at Mount Shigi."

"You were at Mount Shigi?"

Kanbei once again took up the conversation. "Those years of loyalty amid such adversity were brought to nought when the Amako were defeated by the Mori. Later, he secretly asked for assistance from Lord Nobunaga through the good offices of Lord Katsuie. It was at the battle at Mount Shigi that Shikanosuke took the head of the fierce Kawai Hidetaka."

"It was you who struck down Kawai," Hideyoshi said, as though his doubts were now cleared up, and he looked again at the man, this time with a broad smile.

* * *

Hideyoshi very quickly demonstrated the might of his troops. The two castles of Sayo and Kozuki fell, and within the same month he defeated the neighboring Ukita clan, an ally of the Mori. Takenaka Hanbei and Kuroda Kanbei were always at Hideyoshi's side.

The main camp was moved to Himeji. During this time, Ukita Naoie constantly requested reinforcements from the Mori clan. At the same time Naoie gave Makabe Harutsugu, Bizen's bravest warrior, a force of eight hundred men, with which he successfully captured Kozuki Castle.

"This Hideyoshi isn't much, after all," Makabe bragged.

Kozuki Castle's stores of gunpowder and food were replenished, and fresh troops were sent as reinforcements.

"I suppose we couldn't just let it go," Hanbei suggested.

"I think not," Hideyoshi said deliberately. Since coming to Himeji, Hideyoshi had studied the whole situation of the western provinces. "Whom do you suppose I should send? I think this battle is going to be rough."

"Shikanosuke is the only choice."

"Shikanosuke?"

"Kanbei, what do you think?" Hideyoshi asked.

Kanbei voiced his immediate agreement.

Shikanosuke received Hideyoshi's orders, readied his forces during the night, and pressed on toward Kozuki Castle. It was the end of the year and bitterly cold.

Shikanosuke's officers and men were fired with the same zeal as their commander. Sworn to strike down the Mori and to restore Katsuhisa, the head of the Amako clan, they were men of the most loyal courage.

When the Ukita generals heard from their scouts that the enemy was the Amako clan, with Shikanosuke at its head, they were struck with dread. Just hearing the name of Shikanosuke sent them into the kind of terror a small bird might feel in front of a raging tiger.

And there was no doubt that they feared the reports of Shikanosuke's advance far more than they would have feared a direct attack from Hideyoshi himself.

From that standpoint, Shikanosuke was the best man to send against Kozuki Castle. He had, after all, with his singleminded loyalty and courage, wreaked havoc and inspired terror like an angry god. Even the bravest general of the Ukita clan, Makabe Harutsugu, abandoned Kozuki Castle without a fight, figuring he would simply lose too many soldiers if he stayed and opposed Shikanosuke.

By the time Shikanosuke's men entered the castle and reported to Hideyoshi that its capture had been executed without bloodshed, Makabe had already asked for reinforcements. Joining forces with an army led by his brother, to make a combined force of fifteen or sixteen hundred men, Makabe rode forward for a counterattack, stopping in a cloud of dust on a level plain a short distance from the castle.

Shikanosuke looked out from the watchtower. "It hasn't rained for over two weeks. Let's give them a fiery reception," he laughed.

Shikanosuke divided his soldiers into two groups. Late that night they made a sortie from the castle, one group of soldiers lighting fires upwind from the enemy and setting the dry grasses ablaze. Surrounded by the brushfires, the Ukita forces were completely routed.

Shikanosuke's second corps now went into action and moved in to annihilate them. No one knew how many of the enemy perished in this massacre, but the enemy commander, Makabe Harutsugu, and his brother were both slain.

"I guess they'll be discouraged now."

"No, they'll keep coming."

Shikanosuke's forces marched back to Kozuki, raising a victory song. However, a messenger from the main camp in Himeji arrived with an order from Hideyoshi to abandon the castle and retreat to Himeji. Not unnaturally, a cry of outrage rang out in all the ranks, from Amako Katsuhisa, the head of the clan, on down. Why should they abandon a castle they had fought so hard to takeand one in a strategically advantageous area?

"Nevertheless, if it's our commander-in-chief's order" said Shikanosuke, obliged to console both Lord Katsuhisa and his troops, and to return to Himeji.

On his return, he immediately consulted with Hideyoshi. "If I may speak without reserve, every one of my officers and men were incredulous about your orders. I also share their feelings."

"To keep the matter secret, I didn't tell the messenger the reason for the retreat, but Ill tell you now. Kozuki Castle has been a fine bait to draw out the Ukita. If we abandon it, the Ukita are sure to reprovision it with supplies, weapons, and gunpowder. They'll probably even strengthen the garrison. And that's when we'll move!" Hideyoshi laughed. Lowering his voice to a whisper, he leaned forward on his camp stool and pointed his war fan in the direction of Bizen. "No doubt, Ukita Naoie is anticipating that I will attack Kozuki Castle yet again. Only this time he will lead a large army himself, and we are going to outmaneuver him. Don't be angry, Shikanosuke."

The old year ended. The scouts' reports were exactly as expected: large amounts of supplies were already being transported by the Ukita to Kozuki Castle; the command of the castle had been given to Ukita Kagetoshi; and picked troops had been sent to man the castle walls.

Hideyoshi surrounded the castle and ordered Shikanosuke and his force of ten thousand men to hide in the vicinity of the Kumami River.

Meanwhile, Ukita Naoie, who had planned a pincer attack on Hideyoshi's troops, acting in concert with the castle garrison, led his army from Bizen in person.

The bait was set. When Naoie attacked Hideyoshi, Shikanosuke struck like a whirlwind, cutting his army to pieces. Naoie was barely able to escape with his life. Having dealt with the Ukita, Shikanosuke rejoined Hideyoshi for a full-scale attack on the castle.

Hideyoshi attacked the castle with fire. So many were burned to death in the castle that the place became known to later generations as "the Hell Valley of Kozuki."

"This time I won't tell you to abandon the castle," Hideyoshi told Amako Katsuhisa. "Guard it well."

Once Hideyoshi had finished mopping up Tajima and Harima, he made a triumphal return to Azuchi. He was there for less than a month before setting out again for the west in the Second Month.

During this respite, the western provinces hastily prepared themselves for war. Ukita Naoie sent an urgent message to the Mori:

The situation is grave. This is not a matter involving only the province of Harima. At present, Amako Katsuhisa and Yamanaka Shikanosuke occupy Kozuki Castie, with the support of Hideyoshi. This matter will have serious repercussions that the Mori clan cannot afford to overlook. What else can this be but a first step of the vengeful and vehement Amakowho were destroyed by the Mori clantoward the restoration of their lost lands? You should not ignore this matter, but instead dispatch a large army quickly and annihilate them now. We, the Ukita, will take up the vanguard and repay you for your many past favors.

Mori Terumoto's most trusted generals were the sons of his grandfather, the great Mori Motonari. They were known as "the Two Uncles of the Mori." Both had inherited their fair measure of Motonari's talents. Kobayakawa Takakage was a man of broad wisdom; Kikkawa Motoharu was a man of self-possession, virtue, and talent.

While he was alive, Motonari had lectured his children in the following way: "Generally, there's no one more likely to bring disaster to the world than a man who aspires to grasp the nation's government but lacks the ability to govern. When such a man takes advantage of the times and actually tries to seize the Empire, destruction will surely follow. You should reflect on your own status and remain in the western provinces. It will be sufficient if you are resolved not to fall behind others."

Motonari's admonition was respected to that very day. Which is why the Mori lacked the ambition of the Oda, Uesugi, Takeda, or Tokugawa. So even though they sheltered the ex-shogun, Yoshiaki, communicated with the warrior-monks of the Honganji, and even made a secret alliance with Uesugi Kenshin, it was all for the protection of the western provinces. In the face of Nobunaga's advances, the fortresses of the provinces under their control were used only as a first line of defense for their own domain.

But now the west itself was under violent attack. One corner of that line of defense had already crumbled, demonstrating that even the western provinces were unable to remain outside the whirlwind of the times.

"The main army should be made up of the combined strength of Terumoto and Takakage, and they should attack Kozuki together. I will lead the soldiers of Inaba, Hoki, Izumo, and Iwami, uniting with the soldiers of Tamba and Tajima on the way and, with one stroke, advance on the capital, act in concert with the Honganji, and strike directly at Nobunaga's headquarters at Azuchi."

This bold strategy was advanced by Kikkawa Motoharu, but neither Mori Terumoto nor Kobayakawa Takakage would approve it, their argument being that the plan was too ambitious. Instead, it was decided that they should attack Kozuki Castle first.

In the Third Month, a Mori army of thirty-five thousand men marched north. Some time before, Hideyoshi had gone to Kakogawa Castle in Harima, but his army amounted to no more than seven thousand five hundred men. Even if he included his allies in Harima, his troops were no match for the Mori.

Hideyoshi maintained an outward calm, declaring that reinforcements would come if needed. His troops and allies, however, were shaken by the smallness of their numbers compared to the Mori. The first sign of disaffection came quickly: Bessho Nagaharu, the lord of Miki Castle and Nobunaga's main ally in eastern Harima, defected to the enemy. Bessho spread false rumors about Hideyoshi to excuse his betrayal, while at the same time he invited the Mori into his castle.

Around that time, Hideyoshi received unexpected news: Uesugi Kenshin of Echigo was dead. It was common knowledge that Kenshin was a heavy drinker, and it was supposed that he might have collapsed from apoplexy. But there were some who put forward the theory that he had been assassinated. That night, Hideyoshi stood on Mount Shosha, his gaze lost in the stars, reflecting on the extraordinary character and life Uesugi Kenshin.

Miki Castle had a number of branch castles at Ogo, Hataya, Noguchi, Shikata, and Kanki, and each had followed Miki's lead and unfurled the banner of rebellion. Their commanders derided Hideyoshi and his small army.

At this point, Kanbei suggested a new strategy to Hideyoshi.

"We may be obliged to crush these small castles one by one. But I think that taking Miki Castle by removing the surrounding small stones is the easiest strategy."

Hideyoshi first took Noguchi Castle, forced Kanki and Takasago to surrender, and burned the neighboring villages one by one. He had half-subjugated the Bessho clan when an urgent letter from Shikanosuke arrived from the beleaguered Kozuki Castle.

A large Mori army has surrounded the castle. Our situation is desperate. Please send reinforcements. Kobayakawa's soldiers number over twenty thousand; Kikkawa is leading about sixteen thousand men. In addition, the army of Ukita Naoie has joined them with about fifteen thousand men, so the entire force cannot be less than fifty thousand troops. In order to cut off communications between Kozuki and its allies, the enemy army is digging a long trench across the valley and putting up stockades and barriers. They also have about seven hundred warships sailing the seas of Harima and Settsu, and seem prepared to send reinforcements and supplies overland.

This report could not but put a halt to Hideyoshi's present course. This was, indeed, a grave problem. And an urgent one. But it was not a complete surprise, because the mobilization of the Mori had been considered in his plans beforehand.

Whenever Hideyoshi was troubled, his feelings were manifested in the shape of a large frown. Having predicted the present situation, he had already requested reinforcements from Nobunaga, but no word had yet come from the capital. He had no idea whether reinforcements had already been sent or whether none would be coming.

Kozuki Castle, now held desperately by Amako Katsuhisa and Shikanosuke, was at the juncture of three provinces: Bizen, Harima, and Mimasaka. Though it was only a small castle near a mountain village, it occupied a very important strategic position.

If one ever wanted to enter the Sanin area, Kozuki was the barrier one would first have to control. It was natural that the Mori would give this serious consideration, and Hideyoshi was impressed with the enemy's astute grasp of the situation. But he did not have enough strength to divide his army in two.

Nobunaga was not so small-minded as to be unable to delegate important tasks to the men under his command. But the general rule was that everything had to be in his own hands. His guiding principle was that if someone threatened his control, that person was not to be trusted at all. Hideyoshi had learned this lesson well. Even though he had been given the responsibility of commander-in-chief of the campaign, he never took major decisions on his own.

Thus he would send inquiries by dispatch and always ask for Nobunaga's advice, even though it may have looked as though he were asking instructions from Azuchi for every single trifling matter. He sent trusted retainers as envoys to make detailed reports on the situation, so that Nobunaga could have a clear understanding of what was going on.

Having made up his mind in his usual fashion, Nobunaga immediately ordered preparations for his departure. The other generals, however, admonished him in chorus. Nobumori, Takigawa, Hachiya, Mitsuhideall were of the same opinion.

"Harima is a place of difficult peaks and pathways, a battlefield of mountains and hills. Shouldn't you first send reinforcements and then wait to see what the enemy does?"

Another general continued the argument, "And if His Lordship's campaign in the west drags on unexpectedly, the Honganji may cut us off from the rear and threaten our men from both land and sea."

Nobunaga was persuaded by their arguments and postponed his departure. But one must not overlook the emotions of the generals toward Hideyoshi each time a war council was called. Without actually saying so, they seemed to be asking why Hideyoshi had been made commander-in-chief, implying that the responsibility was too much for him. And as these insinuations circulated, there was one more at the bottom of them all: if Nobunaga went himself, it would still be Hideyoshi who took all the credit.

Leading reinforcements of about twenty thousand men, Nobumori, Takigawa, Niwa, and Mitsuhide left the capital and reached Harima at the beginning of the Fifth Month. Nobunaga later sent his son, Nobutada, to join them.

In the meantime, having increased his main army with the advance party of reinforcements led by Araki Murashige, Hideyoshi moved the entire force, now east of Kozuki Castle, to Mount Takakura. Reviewing the position of Kozuki Castle from this vantage point, he could see that it would be extremely difficult to establish contact with the men trapped inside.

Both the main stream and the tributaries of the Ichi River flowed around the mountain upon which the castle stood. Moreover, the castle was closed to both the northwest and southwest by the inaccessible crags of Mount Okami and Mount Taihei. There was simply no way open to approach it.

There was only a road, and it was blockaded by the Mori. Beyond that, the enemy fortifications and banners appeared at every river, valley, and mountain. A castle with such natural defenses could be held, but the very nature of its position made it extremely difficult for reinforcements to reach it.

"There's nothing we can do," Hideyoshi lamented. It was as though he were confessing that, as a general, he had not the first idea for a strategy.

Finally, when night fell, he ordered his men to make bonfires. And to make them big. Soon, huge flames could be seen from Mount Takakura to the neighborhood of Mount Mikazuki, rising over the peaks and valleys. During the day, innumerable banners and flags were hung between the trees on the high ground, which at least showed the enemy that Hideyoshi's army was present and also encouraged the tiny force inside the castle. This went on until the Fifth Month and the arrival of twenty thousand reinforcement under Nobumori, Niwa, Takigawa, and Mitsuhide.

Everyone's spirits were raised, but the actual results did not justify such elation. The reason was that there were now too many illustrious generals present in one place. With all of them shoulder to shoulder with Hideyoshi, there was not one who wanted to be put into a subordinate position. Niwa and Nobumori were both Hideyoshi's seniors, while Mitsuhide and Takigawa were his equals in terms of popularity and intelligence.

They themselves engendered an atmosphere of doubt concerning who the commander- in-chief really was. Orders cannot come down even two roads, and now they were being issued by several generals. The enemy was able to sniff out such internal difficulties. The Mori forces were awake enough to see through the inefficiency of the situation. One night the troops of Kobayakawa skirted the rear of Mount Takakura and made a surprise attack on the Oda camp.

Hideyoshi's men sustained a number of casualties. Next, the troops of Kikkawa moved quickly from the plains to the rear up to the area of Shikama and made a surprise attack on the Oda supply corps, burning its ships and generally doing their best to cause disruption.

One morning, as Hideyoshi looked in the direction of Kozuki, he saw that the castle's watchtower had been completely destroyed overnight. Inquiring into the matter, he was informed that the Mori army possessed one of the Southern Barbarians' cannons and had probably pulverized the tower by making a direct hit with a huge ball. Impressed by this show of force, Hideyoshi left for the capital.

* * *

When Hideyoshi arrived in Kyoto, he went straight to Nijo Palace, his clothes still dusty from the road, his face covered with stubble.

"Hideyoshi?" Nobunaga had to look twice at Hideyoshi just to make sure it was him. He certainly looked different from the man who had marched off at the head of his troops; his eyes had a hollow look, and a sparse, reddish beard surrounded his mouth like a scrubbing brush.

"Hideyoshi, why have you come here looking so pressed?"

"I haven't had a moment to spare, my lord."

"If that's so, why are you here?"

"I've come to ask for instructions."

"What a troublesome general you are! I made you commander-in-chief, didn't I? If you keep asking my opinion about everything, there'll be no time to put your tactics into action. Why are you so reserved on this particular occasion? Can't you act on your own?"

"Your irritation is entirely reasonable, my lord, but your orders have to come through single channel."

"When I put the baton of command in your hand, I gave you authority in every situation. If you understand what I want, then your instructions are my instructions. What is there to be confused about?"

"With all due respect, that's exactly the point I'm having some difficulty with. I don't want to let one single soldier die in vain."

"What are you trying to say?"

"If the present situation persists, we cannot win."

"Why do you say that this is a lost battle?"

"Unworthy as I am, now that I am in command, I do not intend to lead my men into a pitiful rout. But defeat is inevitable. In terms of fighting spirit, equipment, and geographical advantage, we're hardly a match for the Mori right now."

"The first thing to remember," Nobunaga countered, "is that if the commander-in-chief anticipates defeat, there's no reason for him to win."

"But if we miscalculate, thinking that we can win, our defeat might be disastrous. If your troops are stained with one defeat in the west, the enemies who are waiting here and elsewhere, and, of course, the Honganji, will think that the lord of the Oda has stumbled, and that now is the time for his downfall. They'll beat their gongs and scream their incantations, and even the north and east will rise up against you."

"I'm aware of that."

"But shouldn't we take into consideration that the invasion of the western provinces, which is so important, might be fatal for the Oda clan?"

"I have that in mind, of course."

"Then why didn't you come to the western provinces yourself, after I had made somany requests to you? Time is of the essence. If we miss this opportunity, we'll have no chance in the real battle. It's almost foolish to mention this, but I know you are the first general ever to perceive this opportunity, and I do not understand why you did nothing when I sent request after request to you. Even though I've tried to draw the enemy out, they're not so easily provoked. Now the Mori have raised a huge army and attacked Kozuki, using Miki Castle as a base. Is this not a heaven-sent opportunity? I would be happy to be a decoy to lure them out further. Then couldn't you, my lord, come in person, and finish this game with a single stroke?"

Nobunaga was lost in thought. Because he was not the kind of man to be indecisive at a time like this, Hideyoshi understood that Nobunaga did not mean to granlt his request.

Finally Nobunaga said, "No, this is no time to move rashly. First I need to ascertain exactly the Mori clan's strength." This time it was Hideyoshi who looked lost in thought. Nobunaga went on as if he were rebuking him, "Haven't you become a little overawed at the Mori's strength, expecting defeat even before you've put up a reasonable fight?"

"I don't account it as loyalty to you, my lord, to fight a battle that I know will end in defeat."

"Are the forces of the western provinces that strong? Is their morale that high?"

"It is. They're protecting the borders they've held since the time of Motonari, and are taking pains to strengthen the interior of their domain. Their wealth cannot be compared even with the Uesugi of Echigo or the Takeda of Kai."

"It's foolish to think that a wealthy province is always a strong one."

"Strength depends on the quality of wealth. If the Mori were extravagant and arrogant, they wouldn't be worth worrying about, and in fact their very wealth might be taken advantage of. But the two generals, Kikkawa and Kobayakawa, are of great aid to Terumoto, and they maintain the traditions of their former lord; their commanders and soldiers act virtuously, following the Way of the Samurai. The few soldiers we take alice are of an awe-inspiring mettle and burn with hostility. When I see all this, I can't help lamenting that this invasion is going to be so diff"

"Hideyoshi, Hideyoshi," Nobunaga interrupted with a look of displeasure. "What about Miki Castle? Nobutada is headed there."

"I doubt that it will fall easily, even with your son's abilities."

"What kind of commander is Bessho Nagaharu, the governor of the castle?"

"He is a man of character."

"You're only praising the enemy, you know."

"The first rule of the military man is to know his enemy. I suppose it's not a good thing to praise both their commanders and their soldiers, but I've spoken frankly because I feel it's my duty to give you a correct evaluation."

"I suppose that's right." Nobunaga finally seemed to recognize the strength of the enemy, although he did so reluctantly. Nevertheless, the determination to win was festering somewhere within him, and presently he said, "I suppose that's so, but it's another thing for our troops not to be spirited, Hideyoshi."

"Absolutely!"

"The role of commander-in-chief is not an easy one. Takigawa, Nobumori, Niwa, and Miitsuhide are all senior generals. It's not that they don't follow your instructions, is it?"

"You have excellent insight, my lord." Hideyoshi hung his head, his battle-weary face turning red. "Perhaps it was too much of a responsibility for their junior, Hideyoshi."

Certainly he could see through the subtle machinations of the senior retainers, and how they had prevented Nobunaga from riding into battle himself. Even if the large army of the Mori was nothing to be worried about, he had to caution himself to be wary of the danger from his own allies.

"This is what you must do, Hideyoshi. Abandon the castle at Kozuki temporarily. Join Nobutada's forces, proceed to Miki Castle, and bring down Bessho Nagaharu. Then watch what the enemy does for a while."

The primary cause of the troops' depression was the fact that the army had been split in two, one half to attack Miki Castle and the other to relieve Kozuki. This was the result of differing opinions in the Oda military conferences up to now. And the reason for the split was clear. The small Amako force, entrenched in Kozuki Castle, was depending on the Oda clan. To abandon them for a quick strategic gain would make other western clans feel uneasy and lead them to wonder what kind of man Nobunaga was. Certainly the Oda could gain the reputation of being unreliable allies.

The man who had placed Amako Katsuhisa and Shikanosuke's troops in Kozuki Castle was Hideyoshi, and now misery, friendship, and an almost unbearable sympathy filled his heart. He knew that he was going to watch them die. Nevertheless, as soon as he received Nobunaga's new orders, he responded with an immediate "Yes, my lord," and withdrew.

Repressing his own feelings, he returned to the western provinces, deep in thought all the way. Avoid the difficult battle, and be victorious over that which is easythis is the natural law of military strategy, he said to himself. It seems that taking this measure has little to do with good faith, but we have been fighting for a greater objective from the very beginning. So I'm going to have to bear the unbearable.

When Hideyoshi returned to his base on Mount Takakura, he called the other generals and informed them of Nobunaga's decision exactly as it had been told to him. Then he immediately gave the order to strike camp and join Nobutada's army. With Niwa and Takigawa's forces left behind as a rear guard, Hideyoshi's and Araki Murashige's main army began the retreat.

"Has Shigenori returned yet?" Hideyoshi asked a number of times before leaving Mount Takakura.

Takenaka Hanbei, who knew exactly what was on Hideyoshi's mind, looked back toward Kozuki Castle as though he were reluctant to leave.

"He's not back yet?" Hideyoshi asked again.

Shigenori was one of Hideyoshi's retainers. Two nights before, he had received Hideyoshi's instructions to go alone to Kozuki Castle as a messenger. Now Hideyoshi was anxious and kept wondering to himself if his messenger had been able to slip through the enemy lines. What would Shikanosuke do? Hideyoshi's message, carried by Shigenori, was to inform the men in the castle of the changing direction of the battle.

Can you be determined to seek life in the midst of death, and strike out from the castle and join our forces? We will wait for you until tomorrow.

Tomorrow had come, and they watched in anticipation, but the soldiers inside the castle did not move, nor did the Mori army surrounding the castle make the slightest change. Giving them up for lost, Hideyoshi and his men left Mount Takakura.

The men in Kozuki Castle were sunk in a pit of despair. To defend the castle was death; to leave the castle was death. Even the indomitable Shikanosuke was in a daze. He had no idea what to do.

"No one is at fault," Shikanosuke had told Shigenori. "We can only hold a grudge against heaven."

After discussing the matter with Amako Katsuhisa and the other retainers, Shikanosuke gave Shigenori his answer: "In spite of Lord Hideyoshi's kind offer, it is inconceivable that this small, tired force could break out and join him. We must somehow search for another plan."

When he had sent back the messenger, Shikanosuke secretly wrote a note addressed to the commander of the attacking forces, Mori Terumoto. It was a letter of surrender. He also made separate requests for intervention to Kikkawa and Kobayakawa. These were, course, to spare the life of his lord, Katsuhisa, and to plead for the lives of the seven hundred troops in the castle. But neither Kikkawa nor Kobayakawa would listen to Shikanosuke's repeated pleas. There was only one way they would be satisfied. "Open the castle," they said, "and present us with Katsuhisa's head."

It was an extravagance to look for mercy when forced to capitulate. Swallowing tears of grief, Shikanosuke prostrated himself before Katsuhisa. "There is nothing more that your retainer can do. How pitiful that you have had the misfortune of having a worthless retainer like myself. It is inevitable, my lord, you must prepare yourself to die."

"No, Shikanosuke," Katsuhisa said, and turned away. "That the situation has come this pass is not because my men have poor abilities. But we cannot hold a grudge against Lord Nobunaga either. Rather, it is a great, great joy to me to have earned my retainers devotion and to have served as the leader of a samurai clan. It was you who gave me the will to restore the name of our clan, and presented the opportunity to harass our sworn enemies. What regrets have I, even if we are defeated now? I think I have done everything I could do as a man. I can rest in peace now."

At dawn on the third day of the Seventh Month, Katsuhisa committed seppuku in manly fashion. The grudge between the Mori and Amako clans had lasted for a full fifty-six years.

But the greatest surprise was yet to come. Yamanaka Shikanosuke, the man who had fought on against the Mori despite the worst hardships and pains, and who had just asked his lord to commit seppuku, chose not to follow him in death. Instead he surrendered and went to Kikkawa Motoharu's camp like a common foot soldier, ignominiously becoming a prisoner of war.

The human heart is unfathomable. Shikanosuke was criticized by both his enemies and his allies, who said of him that no matter how he cloaked himself in loyalty, when it got to the point of no return, he couldn't help showing his true colors.

But these same critics would hear something even more unexpected several days later, news that would leave them disgusted and incredulous. Yamanaka Shikanosuke had become a retainer of the Mori and had been given a castle in Suo in exchange for his future loyalty.

"What a shallow dog!"

"This man is unfit to associate with samurai!"

The name of Yamanaka Shikanosuke was soon worth nothing but contempt. For twenty years he had been consideredby both enemy and ally alikea warrior of undying devotion and loyalty who had remained unbending through many difficulties. But now people felt ashamed that they had been taken in so badly. Their hatred was in direct proportion to Shikanosuke's earlier fame.

In the hottest part of the Seventh Month, Shikanosukewho appeared to be giving no ear at all to the taunts of the worldhis family and his retainers were led to his new estate in Suo. They were escorted by several hundred Mori troops who were acting officially as guides but who were really nothing more than guards. Shikanosuke was like a captured tiger that could still turn violent at any time. Before he was caged and accustomed to being fed, his new allies did not feel truly comfortable with him. After a few days' march they came to the Abe River ferry at the foot of Mount Matsu.

Shikanosuke dismounted and sat down on a large rock facing the riverbank.

Amano Kii of the Mori clan dismounted and approached him. He said, "The women and children are poor walkers, so we'll let them cross the river first. Rest here for a little while."

Shikanosuke simply nodded. He had recently become quite reticent, not wanting to waste his words. Kii walked toward the ferry and yelled something to the men on the riverbank. There were only one or two boats. Shikanosuke's wife, son, and retainers piled into them one after another until the boats appeared to be filled with little mountains, and set off for the opposite shore.

Watching the boat, Shikanosuke wiped the sweat from his face and asked his attendant to dip a cloth into the icy water of the river. His only other attendant had led his horse downstream to drink.

Green-winged insects buzzed around Shikanosuke. A pale moon floated in the late afternoon sky. Flowering bindweed crept along the ground.

"Shinza! Hikoemon! Now's your chance!" Kii's eldest son, Motoaki, whispered to two men standing in the shade of a stand of trees where about ten horses were tethered. Shikanosuke did not notice them. The boat carrying his family was almost halfway across the river.

The river wind filled his breast, and the entire scene dazzled his tear-filled eyes. How pitiful, he lamented. As a husband and father, he was heartbroken to think of the fate of his vagabond family.

Even the bravest warrior has feelings, and it was said that Shikanosuke was more sentimental than most men. His courage and chivalrous spirit burned in his eyes with more intensity than the hot summer sun. He had been abandoned by Nobunaga; he had severed his ties with Hideyoshi; he had delivered Kozuki Castle; and then he had presented the head of his lord to his enemies.

And now he was still here, obstinately clinging to life. What were his hopes? What honor did he still have? The world's insults sounded like the chirping of the grasshoppers that surrounded him now. But as he listened while the cool breeze played on his breast, he did not care.

One sorrow

Heaped upon another

Will test my strength to its limits.

This was a poem he had written years before. Now he said it in his heart. He remembered what he had sworn to the mother who had encouraged him when he was young, to his former lord and to heaven, and to the new moon in the empty sky before he went into battle: Give me every obstacle!

Surmounting one after another, he had been able to overcome every obstacle until now. Shikanosuke considered this to be man's greatest pleasure and his own greatest satisfaction.

A hundred obstacles are not in themselves a cause for grief. Advancing through life with this belief, Shikanosuke had tasted great joy in the midst of all his hardships. He had maintained this attitude even when Hideyoshi's messenger told him that Nobunaga had changed strategy. It was true that he had been temporarily discouraged, but he had begrudged no one. Neither had he grieved. Never, not even now, did he sink into despair and think, This is the end. Instead, he burned with hope. I'm still alive, and I'm going to live as long as I continue to breathe! He had one great hope: to get close to his mortal enemy, Kikkawa Motoharu, and die stabbing him to death. After he had snatched away Kikkawa's life, he would rejoice to meet his former lords in the afterworld.

Even though Shikanosuke had surrendered, Kikkawa was not foolish enough to meet him face to face, but politely gave him a castle and sent him on his way. Now Shikanosuke was unhappy, wondering when he might have his chance in the future.

The boat that carried his family and retainers docked on the opposite shore. For a moment his attention was taken by the sight of his family stepping out of the boat in the middle of a large crowd.

Without a sound, a naked blade leaped out from behind Shikanosuke and struck him on the shoulder. At the same time, another blade struck the rock he was sitting on sending sparks flying in all directions. Even a man like Shikanosuke could be taken unawares. Although the blade had cut deep, Shikanosuke jumped up and grabbed the would-be assassin by the topknot.

"Coward!" he shouted.

He had sustained a single sword wound, but his attacker had an accomplice. Seeing his companion in trouble, the second man ran at Shikanosuke, brandishing his sword and yelling, "Prepare yourself to die! It's our lord's command!"

"Bastard!" Shikanosuke spat back in anger. He pushed the first attacker away into his companion, making the second man fall. Seeing his chance, Shikanosuke ran into river, kicking up a huge spray of foam.

"Don't let him escape!" a Mori officer shouted, breaking into a run. He flung his spear with all his might from the bank. It caught Shikanosuke in the back and knocked him face down into the river. The spear shaft stood straight up in the reddening water, like a harpoon stuck in a whale.

The two assassins waded into the river. They dragged the wounded Shikanosuke out by the legs, pinned him down on the riverbank, and cut off his head. Blood ran in rivulets through the small stones on the bank, while the waves of the Abe River almost appeared to be on fire as they rolled back and forth. At the same time, cries and bellowing came from farther up the bank.

"My lord!"

"Lord Shikanosuke!"

Shikanosuke's two attendants began to run toward him, but the Mori had planned for this as well. As soon as they yelled out, they were surrounded by a cage of steel and could go no farther. When they realized that their master had met his end, they fought with all the strength they had, until they followed Shikanosuke into death.

A man's body cannot live forever. An unswerving loyalty and sense of duty, however, will live long in the annals of war. Warriors of later times would say that whenever they looked up and saw the new moon in an indigo-blue evening sky, they would think of Yamanaka Shikanosuke's indomitability and would be struck by feelings of reverence. In their hearts Shikanosuke would live forever.

Shikanosuke's sword and the tea container "Great Ocean" were sent along with his head to Kikkawa Motoharu.

"If we had not struck you down," Kikkawa said as he looked at the head, "you would be holding my head in your hands one day. That is the Way of the Samurai. Having accomplished what you did, you should resign yourself to finding peace in the next world."

* * *

When Hideyoshi's seven thousand five hundred men left Kozuki, it looked as though they would be advancing toward Tajima, but suddenly they turned toward Kakogawa in Harima and joined forces with Nobutada's thirty thousand troops. It was already the end of summer.

Attacked by this large army, both the castles at Kanki and Shikata fell quickly. The only remaining castle was at Miki, the stronghold of the Bessho clan. The battles the Oda fought as they pressed in on Miki Castle seemed to have gone rather easily, but the reaction of fortress after fortress on the first line of Mori defenses had been at the sacrifice of a large number of men. The combined forces of the Oda numbered thirty-eight thousand men, but it was clear that the enemy was going to put up considerable resistance.

One of the reasons this campaign would require time was that, along with advances in weaponry, there had been a revolution in tactics. Generally, the weapons of the western provinces' armies were more advanced than those of the Oda's enemies in Echizen or Kai.

It was the first time the Oda forces had come into contact with such powerful gunpowder and cannon. For Hideyoshi, this was an enemy from whom he could learn many things. Kanbei probably did the buying, but Hideyoshi himself was the first to abandon the old Chinese cannons and equip himself with a cannon made by the Southern Barbarians, which he placed on top of a reconnaissance tower. When the other Oda generals saw this, they too rushed to acquire the latest cannon.

When they heard of the fighting in the western provinces, a large number of arms merchants came up from Hirado and Hakata in Kyushu, dodging the Mori fleet at at the risk of their lives while seeking the ports on the Harima coast. Hideyoshi helped these men by mediating with the other generals, whom he told to purchase the new weapons, regardless of cost.

The power of the new cannons was first tested on Kanki Castle. The Oda built a small hill facing the point of attack, and erected a wooden reconnaissance tower upon it. A large cannon was then placed at the top of the tower and fired at the castle. The castles earthen wall and gate were destroyed easily. The real targets, however, were the towers and the inner citadel.

But the enemy also possessed artillery, as well as the newest small arms and gunpowder. The reconnaissance tower was pulverized or burned to the ground a number of times, only to be rebuilt and knocked flat again.

During this hard fighting, Hideyoshi's engineers filled in the moat and pressed in beneath the stone wall, while the sappers excavated tunnels to undermine the walls. This work continued without interruption day and night, never allowing the soldiers in the castle a moment to undo the damage. Such a strategy eventually brought about the fall of the castles. Because victory over the small castles at Shikata and Kanki had required such efforts, it looked as if the attack on the main castle at Miki might be even more difficult.

There was an elevated area called Mount Hirai, about half a league from Miki Castle. Hideyoshi set up his camp there and positioned eight thousand men in the surrounding area.

One day Nobutada visited Mount Hirai, and the two of them went out and observed the enemy's positions. To the south of the enemy were the mountains and hills connected to the mountain ranges of western Harima. To the north ran the Miki River. To the east were bamboo thickets, farmland, and scrub. Finally, a number of strongholds on the neighboring hills encircled the castle walls on three sides. These in turn centered around the main citadel, the second citadel, and yet a third enclosure.

"It makes you wonder if it can be taken quickly, Hideyoshi," said Nobutada, gazing the castle.

"I doubt seriously that it'll be taken easily. It's like a rotten tooth with a deep root.

"A rotten tooth?" Nobutada unintentionally broke into a smile at Hideyoshi's image. Nobutada had been suffering from toothache for four or five days. Because of the swelling, his face was a little distorted. Now he held his cheek and couldn't help laughing at Hideyoshi's observation. The parallel of the unassailable Miki Castle and his rotten tooth was both amusing and painful.

'I see. Just like a rotten tooth. To pull it, you need patience."

"It may be only one tooth, but it offends the body in its entirety. Bessho Nagaharu makes our men suffer. It's not enough to say that he's like a rotten tooth. But if we give in to our irritation and try to subjugate the castle thoughtlessly, not only could the gums be damaged but it could be fatal to the patient."

'Well, what shall we do, then? What's your strategy?"

"This tooth's fate is clear. Let's just loosen the root naturally. What if we cut off the supply roads and then shake the tooth from time to time?"

"My father, Nobunaga, told me to withdraw to Gifu if the prospects were not good for a quick attack. You can take care of the delaying tactics and other arrangements; I'm returning to Gifu."

"Set your mind at ease, my lord."

The next day Nobutada withdrew from the battlefield in the company of the other generals. Hideyoshi disposed his eight thousand soldiers around Miki Castle, placing a corps commander at each position and erecting wooden palisades. He posted sentries and cut off all roads leading into the castle. Special emphasis was placed on the observation corps guarding the road to the south of the castle. If one followed the road about four leagues to the west, one would come out on the coast. The Mori navy often sent large convoys of ships to this point, and from here it transported weapons and provisions to the castle.

"The Eighth Month is so refreshing," Hideyoshi said, gazing up at the evening moon. "Ichimatsu! Hey, Ichimatsu!"

The pages came running out of the camp, each of them jockeying to arrive first. Ichimatsu was not among them. While the other pages took stances to outshine one another, Hideyoshi gave them their instructions.

"Prepare a mat at a spot on Mount Hirai with a commanding view. We're going to have a moon-viewing party tonight. Now don't fight among yourselves. This is a party, not a battle."

"Yes, my lord!"

"Toranosuke."

"My lord?"

"Ask Hanbei to join me if he feels well enough for moon viewing."

Two of the pages quickly returned and announced that they had prepared the mat. They had chosen a place near the summit of Mount Hirai, a short climb from the camp.

"A superb view, indeed," Hideyoshi commented. Then he once again turned to the pages and said, "Go ask Kanbei too. It would be a shame if he didn't see this moon." And he sent a page running to Kanbei's tent.

The moon-viewing platform had been set up under a huge pine tree. There was cold sake in a crane-necked flask, and food on a square cypress-wood tray. Although the setting was hardly luxurious, it was quite sufficient for a brief respite during a military campaignespecially with the shining moon overhead. The three men sat on the mat in a line, with Hideyoshi in the center and Hanbei and Kanbei on either side.

It was the same moon that the three men gazed up at, but it evoked completely different thoughts in each of them. Hideyoshi thought about the fields of Nakamura; Hanbei remembered the magical moon over Mount Bodai; and only Kanbei thought about the days ahead.

"Are you cold, Hanbei?" Kanbei asked his friend, and Hideyoshi, perhaps from sudden concern, also turned and looked at Hanbei.

"No, I'm fine." Hanbei shook his head; but just at that moment his face looked paler than the moon.

This talented man has frail health, Hideyoshi sighed without cheer. He worried about Hanbei's health far more than Hanbei himself did.

Once Hanbei had vomited blood while riding at Nagahama, and he had often been ill during the northern campaign. When they had started out this time, Hideyoshi had tried to stop his friend from coming, protesting that he was overstraining himself.

"What are you talking about?" Hanbei had replied lightly, and joined him in the field anyway.

It was reassuring to Hideyoshi to have Hanbei at his side. He was both a visible and an invisible strengththe relationship was one of lord and retainer, but in his heart Hideyoshi looked up to Hanbei as a teacher. Now, especially, he was faced with the difficult task of the western campaign, the war was dragging on, and many of his fellow generals were envious of him. He was approaching the steepest climb of life, and his reliance on Hanbei was all the more critical.

But Hanbei had already fallen ill twice since they had entered the western provinces. Hideyoshi had been so worried that he had ordered Hanbei to see a doctor in Kyoto. Hanbei, however, had quickly returned.

"I've been ill since my birth, so I'm used to infirmity. Medical treatment would be useless in my case. A warrior's life is on the battlefield." With that, he worked at staff headquarters as diligently as before, without the least sign of fatigue. His weak constitution, however, was a grim fact, and there was no way to beat the disease, regardless of how strong his spirit might be.

Heavy rain had poured down on them when the army moved from Tajima. Possibly because of the excesses of that trip, Hanbei had pleaded ill health and did not show his face to Hideyoshi for two days after they set up camp at Mount Hirai. It was normal for Hanbei not to appear before Hideyoshi on days when he was very ill; he very likely did not want to give his lord cause for concern. But because Hanbei had looked fit during the past few days, Hideyoshi had thought they could sit together under the moon and talk as they had not been able to for a long time. But it was not just the light of the moon: as Hideyoshi had feared, there was something not quite right in Hanbei's complexion.

When he sensed Hideyoshi's and Kanbei's concern, Hanbei purposely steered the conversation in another direction.

"Kanbei, according to the news I received yesterday from a retainer in my home province, your son, Shojumaru, is quite healthy and has finally gotten used to his new surroundings."

"Because Shojumaru is in your home province, Hanbei, I have no worries. I hardly ever think about it."

The two of them spoke about Kanbei's son for a little while. Hideyoshi, who still had no children of his own, could not help feeling a little envious as he listened to this talk between fathers. Shojumaru was Kanbei's heir, but when Kanbei had realized what the future held, he had entrusted his son to Nobunaga as a pledge of good faith.

The young hostage had been put into of Hanbei's care, who had sent him to his castle in Fuwa and was raising him as though he were his own son. Thus, with Hideyoshi as the linchpin of their relationship, Kanbei and Hanbei were also bound by ties of friendship. And while they were rivals as generals, there was not the least bit of jealousy between them. The saying that "two great men cannot stand side by side" was hardly applicable in Hideyoshi's field headquarters.

Looking at the moon, drinking sake, and talking about the great men of past and present, and the rise and fall of provinces and clans, it seemed that Hanbei managed to forget his illness.

Kanbei, however, returned to the subject. "Even if a man leads a great army in the morning, he doesn't know whether he'll be alive in the evening. But if you hold some great ambitionno matter how great a man you areyou must live a long time to bring it to fruition. There have been many glorious heroes and loyal retainers who left their names to eternity and whose lives were short, but what if they had lived a long time? It's only natural to feel regret about the shortness of life. The destruction that goes with pushing aside the old and striking at evil is not the only work of a great man. His work is not accomplished until he has rebuilt the nation."

Hideyoshi nodded vigorously. He then said to the silent Hanbei, "That's why we must cherish our lives. I'd like you to take care of your health for those reasons, too, Hanbei."

"I feel the same way," Kanbei added. "Rather than push yourself to excess, why don't you retire to a temple in Kyoto, find a good doctor, and take care of yourself? I suggest this as a friend, and I think you could say that it would be an act of loyalty to give our lord peace of mind."

Hanbei listened, quite overcome by gratitude toward his two friends. "I'll do as you say, and go to Kyoto for a while. But right now we're laying our plans, so I'd like to leave after I see them completed."

Hideyoshi nodded. Thus far he had based his strategy on Hanbei's suggestions, but he still had not seen it succeed. "Are you worried about Akashi Kagechika?" Hideyoshi asked.

"Exactly," Hanbei said, nodding. "If you'll give me five or six days before my convalescent leave, I'll go to Mount Hachiman and meet Akashi Kagechika. I'll try to persuade him to join our side. Do I have your permission?"

"Of course, it would be a great achievement. But what if something happens? You must see that the odds of running into trouble are about eight or nine out of ten. What then?"

"I will only die," Hanbei answered without blinking. From the way he spoke, it was clearly no braggart's bluff.

After Miki Castle fell, Hideyoshi's next enemy would be Akashi Kagechika. But for the time being, Hideyoshi was unable to take Miki Castle. He was not, however, obsessed with the siege. Miki Castle was only one part of the campaign to subdue the whole of the west. So he had little choice but to accept Hanbei's plan to subvert Akashi.

"Will you go, then?" Hideyoshi asked.

"I will."

Hideyoshi was still hesitating, despite Hanbei's spirited resolve. Assuming Hanbei did get past the many dangers on the road and met with Akashi, if the negotiations ended in disagreement, it could not be taken for granted that the enemy would let him return alive. Neither could Hideyoshi be sure that Hanbei would want to return empty-handed. Was Hanbei's true motive to die? Whether he died from disease or was killed by the enemy, he could only die once.

At this point, Kanbei put forward another plan. He had several acquaintances among the retainers of Ukita Naoie. While Hanbei approached the Akashi clan, he himself could go to the senior retainers of the Ukita clan.

When he heard this idea, Hideyoshi intuitively felt reassured. It might be possible to subvert the Ukita clan. Since the invasion of the western provinces had begun, the Ukita had appeared to be somewhat lukewarm, waiting to see which side had the advantage. Ukita Naoie had appealed to the Mori for help, but if he could be persuaded that the future was Nobunaga'sMore than that, the Ukita's alliance with the Mori might prove worthless if they received no military support. It could spell the demise of the Ukita clan. The Ukita had learned this after the withdrawal of the Mori army once it had recaptured Kozuki Castle.

"If the Ukita come to an agreement with us, Akashi Kagechika will have no alternative but to come to terms too," Hideyoshi observed. "And if Kagechika submitted to us the Ukita would immediately sue for peace. To carry on both negotiations at the same time is an excellent idea."

The following day, Hanbei publicly requested leave owing to illness, and announced that he would be going to Kyoto for convalescence. Under this pretense, he left the camp at Mount Hirai, accompanied by only two or three attendants. After a few days, Kanbei also left the camp.

Hanbei first called on Kagechika's younger brother, Akashi Kanjiro. He was not a friend of Kanjiro's, but he had met him twice at the Nanzen Temple in Kyoto, where they had both practiced Zen meditation. Kanjiro was attracted to Zen. Hanbei reasoned that if he appealed to him from the standpoint of the Way, they would come to a quick understanding. Then he could go on to talk to his older brother, Kagechika.

Until they met him, both Akashi Kanjiro and his elder brother, Kagechika, had waited, wondering what kind of policy Hanbei would advocate and how eloquent he would be. He was, after all, both Hideyoshi's teacher and a renowned military tactician But when they did speak to him, contrary to their expectations they found him to be a plainspoken man who seemed devoid of the least bit of showmanship or guile.

Hanbei's conviction and sincerity were so different from the stratagems usually employed during negotiations between samurai clans that the Akashi were convinced. They cut their ties to the Ukita clan. Only when his mission was accomplished did Hanbei finally ask for a short period of leave. This time he truly did put aside his military responsibilities and go to Kyoto to convalesce.

Hideyoshi spoke with him upon his departure and asked him to visit Nobunaga. He was to inform Nobunaga that they had successfully persuaded Akashi Kagechika to join the Oda alliance.

When he learned the news, Nobunaga was overjoyed. "What? You took Mount Hachiman without losing a drop of blood? You did well!" The Oda forces that had occupied the entirety of Harima had now entered Bizen for the first time. It was a first step of great significance.

"You look as though you've lost weight. Take good care to recuperate," Nobunaga said, sympathizing with Hanbei's ill health, and in appreciation for his meritorious deed, he rewarded him with twenty pieces of silver.

To Hideyoshi he wrote:

You have used uncommon wisdom in this situation. I'll hear the details when we meet in person, but for the present, here is a token of my gratitude.

And he sent him one hundred gold pieces. When Nobunaga was happy, he was happy to excess. Taking his vermilion seal in hand, he appointed Hideyoshi military governor of Harima.

* * *

The long campaign at Mount Hirai, with the extended siege of Miki Castle, had reached a stalemate. But with the defection of the Akashi to their side, the Oda were gradually succeeding in their maneuvers. However, as might be expected of a clan of such distinction, the Ukita were not as easily influenced by negotiations, even though Kanbei used every bit of his acumen in dealing with them. Holding the provinces of Bizen and Mimasaka, the Ukita were caught between the Oda and the Mori. Thus it was not an overstatement to say that the future of the western provinces depended entirely on their attiitude.

Ukita Naoie followed the advice of four senior retainers: Osafune Kii, Togawa Higo, Oka Echizen, and Hanabusa Sukebei. Among them, Hanabusa had a slight connection with Kuroda Kanbei. And it was to Hanabusa that Kanbei first addressed himself. Kanbei talked all night, discussing the present and future of the country. He spoke of Nobunaga's aspirations and of Hideyoshi's character, and succeeded in winning over Hanabusa.

Hanabusa then persuaded Togawa Higo to join them, and having won over these two men, Kanbei was able to meet with Ukita Naoie.

After hearing their arguments, Naoie said, "We must consider the fact that a great national force is rising in the east. If we are attacked by Lord Nobunaga and Lord Hideyoshi, the entire Ukita clan will perish to defend the Mori. To save the lives of thousands of soldiers and benefit the nation, my own three sons would gladly meet their deaths as hostages in enemy territory. If I'm able to protect this domain and save thousands of lives, my prayers will be fulfilled."

These words from Naoie ended the discussion among his retainers. The conference was concluded, and a letter pledging the cooperation of the Ukita clan was given to Hikoemon, who delivered it to Mount Hirai. Thus, Hideyoshi won a victory to the rear of his army without expending a single arrow. The two provinces of Bizen and Mimasaka bloodlessly became allies of the Oda.

Hideyoshi naturally wanted to inform his lord of this happy event as quickly as he could, but a letter might be dangerous, he thought. This was a matter of the greatest secrecy: until the right opportunity presented itself, it would be necessary to conceal the alliance from the Mori clan.

He sent Kanbei to Kyoto to inform Nobunaga.

Kanbei immediately set off for the capital. When he arrived, he had an audience with Nobunaga.

As he listened to Kanbei's report, Nobunaga seemed to become extraordinarily displeased. Previously, when Takenaka Hanbei had come to Nijo Palace and had reported on the submission of the Akashi, Nobunaga had been overjoyed and had praised him. This time, however, his reaction was completely different.

"On whose orders did you do this? If it was on Hideyoshi's, he is going to get a grilling! For him to enter into an agreement with the two provinces of Bizen and Mimasaka at all is the worst form of audacity. Go back and tell that to Hideyoshi!" Then, as though this blunt rebuke were not enough, he continued, "According to Hideyoshi's letter, he'll be coming to Azuchi in a few days with Ukita Naoie. You tell him that I won't see Naoie even if he does come. In fact, I won't even see Hideyoshi!"

He was so angry that even Kanbei could not deal with him. Having come in vain, Kanbei returned to Harima nursing feelings of discontent.

Even though he felt ashamed to tell Hideyoshi exactly what had happened in view of all the hardships Hideyoshi had been through, he could hardly keep the matter secret. When Kanbei looked surreptitiously at Hideyoshi's face, he could see a forced smile appear on his haggard cheeks.

"Yes, I understand," Hideyoshi said. "He got angry because I made an unnecessary alliance on my own authority." He didn't seem to be as discouraged as Kanbei. "I imagine Lord Nobunaga wanted us to destroy the Ukita so that he could divide their lands among his retainers." Then, trying to console the downcast Kanbei, he said "It's a real battle when things don't go as planned. The plans you thought through last night change in the morning, and the schemes you have in the morning change by the afternoon."

Kanbei, for his part, was suddenly aware that his life was in this man's hands. Deep in his heart, he felt that he would not even begrudge dying for Hideyoshi.

Hideyoshi had read Nobunaga's heart. If he truly knew how to serve Nobunaga, he obviously understood his way of thinking. Nevertheless, Kanbei now fully understood that the present confidence and status that Hideyoshi enjoyed had been won through twenty years of service with Nobunaga.

"Well then, does this mean that you went ahead with the alliance with the Ukita even though you knew it would be against Lord Nobunaga's will?" Kanbei asked.

"Considering Lord Nobunaga's ambitions, there was no doubt he was going to be angry. When Takenaka Hanbei reported the submission of Akashi Kagechika, His Lordship was so happy that he rewarded both Hanbei and me excessively. Certainly he saw that the submission of the Akashi clan would ease the attack on the Ukita, and a successful attack would have allowed him to divide up the Ukita province and offer it as rewards. But now that I have made the Ukita submit to us, he cannot very well grab their lands, can he?"

"When you explain it that way, I can understand Lord Nobunaga's feelings. But he was so angry that you're not easily going to get a chance to talk frankly with him. He said that if Ukita Naoie comes to Azuchi, or even if you come to intercede for him, he wont give an audience to either one of you."

"I'll have to call on him, regardless of how angry he is. There are ways of avoiding a row when a husband and wife are angry with each other, but it's not good to avoid the anger of one's lord. Nothing is going to make him feel better than my going to apologize, even if I get a beating or he yells at me while I lie prostrate at his feet, looking foolish."

The written pledge procured from Ukita Naoie was in Hideyoshi's hands, but Hideyoshi was only the commander of an expeditionary army. If the treaty did not meet with Nobunaga's approval, it would be worthless.

Moreover, as a matter of formality, etiquette demanded that Ukita Naoie go to Azuchi, pay obeisance to Nobunaga, and ask his further orders. On the date they had prearranged, Hideyoshi accompanied Naoie to Azuchi. Nobunaga's anger, however, had not yet cooled off.

"I won't meet with them." This is all he would tell Hideyoshi through his attendant.

Hideyoshi was at a loss. He could only wait. He went back to the guest room where Naoie was waiting and reported the outcome.

"His Lordship is not in such a good mood today. Would you wait for me awhile back at your lodgings?"

"Is he indisposed?" Naoie asked unhappily. In suing for peace, he had not been seeking Nobunaga's pity. He could still count on a formidable army. What's the matter? Why this cold reception? These words never left his mouth, but he could not help indignantly thinking them.

Naoie could not bear further humiliation. He was beginning to think that he should return to his home province and once again send out the salutations that were appropriate for enemy provinces.

"No, no," Hideyoshi told him. "If there's a problem now, we can meet him later. For the time being, let's go to the castle town."

Hideyoshi had arranged for Naoie's lodgings in the Sojitsu Temple. The two hastily returned to the temple, where Naoie changed from his formal clothing and spoke to Hideyoshi.

"I'm going to leave Azuchi before nightfall and stay overnight in the capital. Then I think it would be better if I returned to Bizen."

"Now, why would you want to do that? At least why would you want to leave before we meet Lord Nobunaga again?"

"I don't feel like meeting him any longer." For the first time, Naoie manifested his feelings in both his countenance and his words. "And I think that Lord Nobunaga does not want to see me, either. Moreover, this is an enemy province with which I have no connection. It would probably be better for both of us if I left right away."

"It will compromise my honor."

"I'll come and thank you properly for the way you've treated me on another day, Lord Hideyoshi. And I shall not forget your kindness."

"Please stay one more night. I can't bear to see the two clans that I have brought together for a peace conference suddenly become enemies again. Lord Nobunaga refused to grant us an audience today, and he has his reasons. Let's meet again this evening and I'll explain them to you. Right now I'm going back to my lodgings to change out of these clothes. Wait for me before eating dinner."

There was nothing Naoie could do but wait until evening. Hideyoshi changed and returned to the temple. They talked and laughed as they ate their evening meal, and as they finished, Hideyoshi remarked, "Ah, that's right. I promised to tell you why Lord Nobunaga was so displeased with me."

And he started to talk as though he had just remembered the subject. In his desire to hear Hideyoshi's explanation, Naoie had put off his departure. Now Hideyoshi had hisundivided attention.

With artless candor, Hideyoshi explained why his own arbitrary settlement had offended Nobunaga. "It's rude of me to say so, but both the provinces of Mimasaka and Bizen would sooner or later have become the possessions of the Oda clan. So to make a peace treaty now with you was not really necessary. But if Lord Nobunaga did not crush the Ukita clan, he would not be able to divide its territory among his generals as rewards for their meritorious deeds. In addition, it was unpardonable that I didn't even seek His Lordship's permission. This is why he's so angry." He laughed as he spoke, but because there was not the slightest fabrication in what he said, the truth was manifested with a clear conscience even from behind his smile.

Naoie was overwhelmed. His face, flushed by sake, suddenly went pale as the blood drained from it. He did not doubt, however, that Nobunaga was thinking in this way.

"So he's in a bad mood," Hideyoshi went on. "He won't give me an audience and he won't meet you either. Once he's that resolved, he's not going to bend. I'm stumped, and I feel horrible for you. The pledge that you entrusted to me is still unauthorized, and long as it doesn't receive His Lordship's vermilion seal, there's nothing I can do. I will return it to you, so you might as well sever your connections with us, renounce the treaty, and hurry back to Bizen tomorrow morning."

With that, Hideyoshi took out Naoie's pledge and handed it back to him. Naoie, however, quietly stared at the light flickering in the tall lamps and refused even to touch the document.

Hideyoshi remained silent.

"No," Naoie said, suddenly breaking the silence. Courteously, he put his hands gether. "I'm going to entreat you to do everything you can once again. Please mediate with Lord Nobunaga for me."

This time his attitude was that of a man who had surrendered from the bottom of his heart. Until now he had appeared to surrender only because of the forcible arguments Kuroda Kanbei.

"All right. If you have that much confidence in the Oda," Hideyoshi said, nodding vigorously, and he consented to undertake the matter.

Naoie stayed at the Sojitsu Temple more than ten days waiting for the outcome. Hideyoshi hurriedly sent off a messenger to Gifu, hoping that Nobutada could mollify Nobunaga somewhat. Already having some business in the capital, Nobutada left for Kyoto soon thereafter.

Accompanied by Naoie, Hideyoshi then had an audience with Nobutada. Finally, through the latter's intercession, Nobunaga relented. Later that day the vermilion seal was affixed to the pledge, and the Ukita clan completely severed its ties to the Mori and allied itself with the Oda.

Hardly seven days later, however, whether by coincidence or for reasons of military expediencey, one of Nobunaga's generals, Araki Murashige, betrayed his lord and joined the enemy camp, raising the banner of rebellion right at the Oda's feet.


The Towers of Azuchi | Taiko | Murashiges Treachery