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Murashige's Treachery

"It's a lie! It must be a lie!"

Nobunaga could not believe it at first. When the news of Murashige's revolt reached Nobunaga in Azuchi, his first reaction was denial. But the gravity of the situation was quickly confirmed when two of Murashige's senior retainers, Takayama Ukon of Takatsuki and Nakagawa Sebei of Ibaragi, cited moral obligations and followed Murashige in unfurling the banner of revolt.

The look of dismay deepened on Nobunaga's brow. The strange thing was that he showed neither anger nor his usual hot temper at this unexpected turn of events. It would be a mistake to judge Nobunaga's character as one of fire. But it would also be an error, in observing his coolness, to classify him as water. When you thought of him as fire, he was water; when you thought of him as water, he was fire. Both the heat of flames and the chill of water coexisted in his body.

"Call Hideyoshi," Nobunaga suddenly ordered.

"Lord Hideyoshi left for Harima early this morning," Takigawa replied nervously.

"He's already left?"

“He probably hasn't gotten very far. With your permission, I'll take a horse and go fetch him back." It was rare for someone to seize the moment and rescue Nobunaga from his own impatience. When the retainers who were present turned to see who this someone might be, they discovered that it was Ranmaru, Nobunaga's page.

Nobunaga granted his request and urged him to hurry.

Noon came, and Ranmaru had not yet returned. In the meantime, reports from the scouts in the areas of Itami and Takatsuki Castle were arriving frequently. The one report among them that made Nobunaga's blood run cold announced yet another new fact.

“Just this morning at dawn, a large Mori fleet approached the Hyogo coast. Soldiers disembarked and entered Murashige's castle at Hanakuma."

The coastal highway through Hyogo that ran beneath Hanakuma Castle was the only route from Azuchi to Harima.

"Hideyoshi is not going to be able to get through." At the moment Nobunaga realized this, he also understood the danger of communications being cut between the expedi­tionary army and Azuchi. He could almost feel the hands of the enemy at his throat.

"Is Ranmaru back yet?" Nobunaga asked.

"No, my lord."

Nobunaga was once again sunk in thought. The Hatano, the Bessho, and Araki Murashige had now suddenly revealed their links with the enemy—the Mori and the Honganji—and Nobunaga felt that he was being surrounded. Moreover, when he looked to the east, he saw that the Hojo and Takeda had recently come to terms.

Ranmaru whipped his horse through Otsu, and finally caught up with Hideyoshi near the Mii Temple. Hideyoshi was resting there, or rather, having come that far, he had heard about Araki Murashige's rebellion and sent Horio Mosuke and two or three others to verify the reports and find out the details.

Ranmaru pulled up and said, "His Lordship ordered me to come after you. He de­sires to talk with you again. Would you return to Azuchi as quickly as possible?"

Leaving his men at the Mii Temple, he turned back toward Azuchi, accompanied only by Ranmaru. On the way back, Hideyoshi thought through what was likely to occur. Nobunaga would be furious at Murashige's rebellion. The first time Murashige had served Nobunaga was during the attack on Nijo Palace, when they had driven out the former shogun. Nobunaga was the kind of man who would show favor toward anyone who pleased him a little, and he showed recognition of Murashige's valor especially. Nobunaga had loved Murashige more than he had loved most men. And Murashige had betrayed Nobunaga's trust. Hideyoshi could imagine what Nobunaga's feelings must be.

As Hideyoshi hurried back to Azuchi, he blamed himself as well as Murashige. The man had been his second-in-command, and their personal relationship had been a close one. And yet he had not known that Murashige was up to this kind of foolishness.

"Ranmaru, have you heard anything?" Hideyoshi asked.

"You mean about Lord Murashige's treachery?"

"What sort of dissatisfaction might have motivated him to rebel against Lord Nobunaga?" They were a long way from Azuchi, and if they had sped all the way back, their horses would have become exhausted. As Hideyoshi trotted along, he looked back at Ran­maru, whose horse was coming a few paces behind at the same pace.

"There were rumors about this sort of thing before," Ranmaru said. "The story goes that one of Lord Murashige's retainers was selling army rice to the warrior-monks of the Honganji. There's a shortage of rice in Osaka. The land road has been cut for the most part, and the sea routes have been blockaded by our fleet, so there is not even the prospect of transporting provisions with the Mori's warships. The price of rice has gone way up, and if a man sells rice there, he can make an immense profit. That's just what Lord Murashige's retainer did, and when the affair was exposed, Lord Murashige took the initiative and unfurled the flag of rebellion, fearing that he would be questioned about this crime by Lord Nobunaga anyway."

"That sounds like a seditious rumor spread by the enemy. Surely it's a baseless lie."

"I think it's a lie, too. From what I've seen, people are jealous of Lord Murashige’s meritorious deeds. I think this disaster has been brought on by a certain person's slander.”

"A certain person?"

"Lord Mitsuhide. Once this rumor about Lord Murashige came out, Lord Mitsuhide had nothing good to say about him to His Lordship. I'm always at His Lordship's side listening secretly, and sure enough, I'm one of the people who feels miserable about this incident."

Ranmaru suddenly fell quiet. He seemed to realize that he had spoken a little too much, and regretted it. Ranmaru concealed his feelings about Mitsuhide as a young maiden might. At such times, Hideyoshi never seemed to pay attention to the conversation at all. In fact, he appeared to be completely indifferent.

"I can already see Azuchi. Let's hurry!" As soon as he pointed into the distance, Hideyoshi whipped his horse, completely disregarding his companion's concerns.

The main entrance of the castle was bustling with the attendants of retainers who had heard about Murashige's rebellion and were coming to the castle, and with messengers pouring in from the nearby provinces. Hideyoshi and Ranmaru shoved their way through the throng and into the inner citadel, only to be told that Lord Nobunaga was in the middle of a conference. Ranmaru went in and spoke to Nobunaga and then quickly returned telling Hideyoshi, "He requested that you wait in the Bamboo Room." He guided Hideyoshi to a three-story tower in the inner citadel.

The Bamboo Room was part of Nobunaga's living quarters. Hideyoshi sat down alone and gazed out at the lake. Soon Nobunaga appeared, shouted happily when he saw Hideyoshi, and sat down without formality. Hideyoshi bowed politely and remained silent. The silence continued for some time. Neither man wasted his words.

"What have been your thoughts about this, Hideyoshi?" These were Nobunaga's first words, and they indicated that a resolution had not emerged out of the various confused views given at the conference.

"Araki Murashige is an extremely honest man. He is, if I may say it, a fool who excels in martial valor. I just didn't think he was that much of a fool," Hideyoshi replied.

"No." Nobunaga shook his head. "I don't think it was foolishness at all. He's nothing but scum. He had misgivings about my prospects and initiated contacts with the Mori, blinded by the thought of profit. This is the act of a moderately talented man. Murashige got lost in his own superficiality."

"He's really nothing but a fool. He received excessive favors and had nothing to be dissatisfied about," Hideyoshi said.

"A man who is going to rebel will do so, no matter how favorably he's treated." Nobunaga was being frank with his emotions. This was the first time Hideyoshi had ever hear him use the word "scum" to describe someone. As a rule, he would not have spoken that way from malice or anger; it was because he had not openly expressed his anger or hatred that nothing had been decided during the council. Had Hideyoshi been asked, however even he would have been at a loss. Should they strike at Itami Castle? Should they try to mollify Murashige and get him to abandon the idea of rebellion? The problem was how to choose between these two alternatives. It would not be very difficult to capture the one castle of Itami. But the invasion of the west had just started. If they took a false step in this minor affair, they would in all likelihood have to revise their plans.

"Why don't I go as an envoy and talk with Murashige?" Hideyoshi suggested.

"So you think it would be better not to use force here, either?"

"Not if we don't have to," Hideyoshi replied.

"Mitsuhide and two or three others have advocated not using force. You're of the same opinion, but I think it would be better if someone else went as the envoy."

"No, I bear part of the responsibility for this. Murashige was my second-in-command and so was my own subordinate. If he were to do something foolish…"

"No!" Nobunaga shook his head emphatically. "There would be nothing imposing about sending an envoy with whom he's too familiar. I'll send Matsui, Mitsuhide, and Mami. Rather than appease him, they'll simply verify the rumor."

"That should be fine," Hideyoshi agreed. He spoke these few words for the sake of of both Murashige and Nobunaga. "It's a common saying that the lie of a Buddhist priest is called expedient, and a revolt within a samurai clan is called strategy. You must not be pulled into fighting, for it would play into the Mori's hands."

"I know."

"I'd like to wait for the results of the envoys' meeting, but I feel uneasy about the problems in Harima. I should probably take my leave soon."

"Really?" Nobunaga sounded a little reluctant to let him go. "What about the road back? You probably won't be able to pass through Hyogo."

"Don't worry, there's also the sea route."

"Well, whatever the outcome, I'll keep you informed. Don't be negligent about sending me news."

Hideyoshi finally took his leave. Although he was exhausted, from Azuchi he crossed Lake Biwa to Otsu, spent that night in the Mii Temple, and the following day turned toward Kyoto. He sent two pages ahead with instructions to have a ship waiting at Sakai, while he and his retainers took the road to the Nanzen Temple. There he announced that they would stop for a short rest.

There was someone in the temple whom he very much wanted to see. That person, of course, was Takenaka Hanbei, who was convalescing in a hermitage on the temple grounds.

The monks were flustered by the sudden arrival of so exalted a guest, but Hideyoshi took one of them aside and requested that they omit the treatment they would ordinarily offer to a guest of his rank.

"My retainers have all brought provisions, so don't be concerned about anything other than hot water for tea. And since I've only stopped to visit Takenaka Hanbei, you don't need to entertain me with either sake or tea. After I have my talk with Hanbei, I'd be grateful if you'd make a light meal." Finally he asked, "Has the patient improved since he arrived?"

"It seems he has made little progress, my lord," the priest answered dolefully.

"He takes his medicine regularly?"

"Both morning and night."

"And a doctor visits him regularly?"

"Yes, a doctor comes from the capital, and Lord Nobunaga's personal physician visits him regularly."

"Is he up?"

"No, he hasn't been up for the past three days."

"Where is he?"

"In a hermitage away from the bustle."

When Hideyoshi went out into the garden, an attendant who served Hanbei ran out to meet him. "He's just changing so that he can see you, my lord," the boy said.

"He's not to get up," Hideyoshi scolded, and walked quickly toward the hermitage.

When Hanbei had heard that Hideyoshi was on his way, he had had his sickbed put away and ordered a servant to sweep the room clean, while he himself changed. Then, putting on some wooden clogs, he had stooped over the little stream that wound its way through the chrysanthemums at the bamboo gate, and washed his mouth and hands. He turned as someone tapped him on the shoulder.

"Oh, I didn't know you were here." Hanbei quickly knelt on the ground. "Over there, my lord," he said, inviting Hideyoshi into his room. Hideyoshi sat down happily on the mat. There was nothing in the room but a Zen master's ink painting hanging on the wall. Hideyoshi's clothing had been completely neutralized by the colors of Azuchi, but here in this simple hermitage, both his coat and his armor looked brilliant and imposing.

Bowing as he walked, Hanbei went around and up to the veranda, where he inserted a single white chrysanthemum into a flower container cut from a section of bamboo. He sat down meekly next to Hideyoshi and put the bamboo container in the alcove.

Hideyoshi understood: even though the sickbed had been put away, Hanbei was afraid that the smell of the medicine and the mustiness of the room would still be linger­ing, and instead of incense, had tried to freshen the air with the fragrance of this flower.

"I'm not bothered at all. Don't even think of it," Hideyoshi said considerately, and looked at his friend with concern. "Hanbei, isn't it difficult for you to get up like this?"

Hanbei withdrew to a short distance and once again bowed low. Even through his formality, however, his happiness at Hideyoshi's visit could be seen on his face. "Please don't worry," he began. "For the last few days it's been cold, so I've been careful to keep indoors, under quilts. But today it started to warm up, and I had just been thinking that 1 should get out of bed."

"It'll be winter in Kyoto soon enough, and they say it's particularly cold in the morn­ing and at night. How about moving to a warmer place during the winter?"

"No, no. I'm beginning to get better and better every day. I'll be well before winter comes."

"If you're really getting better, that's all the more reason why you shouldn't move out of the sickroom this winter. This time you should convalesce until you're completely cured. Your body is not just your own, you know."

"You think more of me than I deserve." Hanbei's shoulders slumped, and he sat with downcast eyes. His hands slipped from his knees and—along with his tears—touched the floor as he bowed in obeisance. For a moment he was silent.

Ah, he has grown so thin, Hideyoshi thought, and sighed. The wrists of those hands that bowed at the mat were so emaciated, the flesh around his cheekbones so gaunt. Was this wasting disease really incurable? With these thoughts, Hideyoshi felt a pain in his chest. Who was it, after all, who had pulled this sick man out into the chaotic world against his will? In how many battlefields had he been soaked by the rain and chilled by the wind? And who was it who, even in times of peace, had put him through the hard­ships of both domestic affairs and diplomatic relations without even thinking of a day of rest? Hanbei was a man whom he should have looked up to as a teacher, but he had treated him the same as any retainer.

Hideyoshi felt that he was to blame for the seriousness of Hanbei's condition and finally, as he looked off to the side, his own tears fell heavily. In front of him, the white chrysanthemum in the bamboo container turned whiter and more fragrant as it soaked up water.

Hanbei silently blamed himself for Hideyoshi's tears. It was an inexcusable act of disloyalty as a retainer and lack of resolve as a warrior to have caused his lord to lose heart when the latter's military responsibilities were so heavy.

"I thought you would be exhausted by this long campaign, so I picked this chrysanthemum from the garden," Hanbei said.

Hideyoshi was silent, but his eyes were drawn to the flower. He seemed relieved that the subject of their conversation had changed.

"What a wonderful smell. I suppose that the chrysanthemums were blooming on Mount Hirai, but I didn't notice their smell or color. We probably trampled them with our bloodied sandals," he laughed, trying to cheer up the ailing Hanbei.

The compassion with which Hanbei attempted to sympathize with his lord was equaled by Hideyoshi's efforts to cheer his retainer.

"As I sit here now, I can really feel the difficulty of maintaining my life with body and mind acting clearly as one being," Hideyoshi said. "The battlefield keeps me busy and makes me rough. Here I feel calm and happy. Somehow it seems that that contrast has become clear, and that I have become wonderfully resolved."

"Well, people obviously value free time and a peaceful frame of mind, but there's no real benefit in becoming a so-called man of leisure; it's an empty life. You, my lord, do not have an instant of peace between one worry and the next. So I suspect that it's quite a marvelous medicine to have this sudden little moment of peace. As for me—"

Hanbei was probably going to blame himself and apologize once again, so Hideyoshi suddenly interrupted him. "By the way, have you heard the news about Araki Murashige's insurrection?"

"Yes, last night someone came here with a detailed report." Hanbei spoke without raising an eyebrow, as though it were of little importance.

"Well, I'd like to talk about it a little," Hideyoshi said, and moved forward a little on his knees. "In Lord Nobunaga's council meeting at Azuchi, it was more or less decided to listen to Murashige's grievances and then do everything possible to calm him down and come to terms with him. But I wonder if that is really a good idea. And what should we do if Murashige rebels in earnest? I would like to hear your frank opinion. That's really another reason why I came here." Hideyoshi was asking for a strategy in order to cope with the situation, but Hanbei answered him briefly.

"I think that's fine. It's a very clever measure."

"Well, if an envoy is sent from Azuchi with a soothing message, is Itami Castle going to be pacified without incident?"

"No, of course not." Hanbei shook his head. "It will not. I think that now that Itami Castle has unfurled the banner of rebellion, it is definitely not going to roll it up again and submit to Azuchi."

"If that's true, then isn't it just wasted effort to send an envoy?"

"It may seem so, but it will serve some purpose. You could say that to act first with humanity and show a retainer his mistake would let the world know of Lord Nobunaga's virtue. During that time, Lord Murashige will most likely be anguished and confused, and thus the arrow that is pulled back unjustifiably and without real conviction is going to weaken as the days go by."

"What do you think our strategy should be in our attack on him, and what is your forecast for the western provinces?"

"I think that neither the Mori nor the Honganji are likely to move precipitously Murashige has already revolted, so they're more likely to let him get into a bloody fight of resistance. Then, if they see that our men in Harima and His Lordship's headquarters in Azuchi are weakening, they'll leap into the vacuum and attack from all sides."

"That's right, they'll take advantage of Murashige's stupidity. I don't know what kind of grievances he may have had, or what kind of bait they waved in front of him, but es­sentially he's being used as a shield for the Mori and the Honganji. Once that role as a shield is finished, there'll be nothing left for him but self-destruction. In terms of martial valor, he's far above others; but he's dull-witted. If there's any way of keeping him alive, I'd like to do it."

"The very best strategy would be to keep him from getting killed. It would be good if we could keep a man like that alive and also keep him as an ally."

"But if you think that an envoy from Azuchi would be useless, who could go that Murashige might submit to?"

"First try sending Kanbei. If Kanbei speaks to him, he should be able to enlighten Murashige on the matter, or at least wake him up from his bad dream."

"What if he refuses to see Kanbei?"

"Then the Oda can send their last envoy."

"Their last envoy?"

"You, my lord."

"Me?" Hideyoshi was momentarily lost in thought. "Well, if it comes to that, it will be too late."

"Teach him duty and enlighten him with friendship. If he doesn't accept what you say, you can do nothing more than strike at him firmly, citing the crime of revolt. If it does come to that, it would be foolish to attack Itami with a single stroke. Lord Murashige has not been emboldened by the strength of Itami Castle but rather by the cooperation of the two men he relies on like his right and left hands."

“You mean Nakagawa Sebei and Takayama Ukon?"

“If you can get those two men away from him, he'll be like a body with no arms. And if you win either Ukon or Sebei over, getting them away from Murashige should not be that much of a problem." Hanbei seemed to forget about his illness at some point and talked about this subject and that, until his sickly pallor almost disappeared.

"How do I win over Ukon?" Hideyoshi asked him eagerly, and Hanbei did not disapoint him.

"Takayama Ukon is an enthusiastic follower of Christianity. If you give him condiions permitting the propagation of his faith, he'll leave Murashige without a doubt."

"Yes, that's clear," Hideyoshi said in admiration. If he could get Ukon to convince Sebei, it would kill two birds with one stone. He stopped his questions. Hanbei appeared to be tired, too. Hideyoshi got up to leave.

"Wait just a moment," Hanbei requested. He got up and went from the room, possibly toward the kitchen.

Hideyoshi remembered that he was hungry. His attendants must have finished eating their lunches by this time. But before he even thought about returning to the temple's guest quarters and having some rice, a boy, who seemed to be Hanbei's attendant, brought in two trays, one bearing a sake container.

"What happened to Hanbei? Did he get tired after our long conversation?"

"No, my lord. He went to the kitchen a little while ago and prepared the vegetables for your meal himself. He's cooking the rice right now, so he'll be in as soon as he's done."

"What? Hanbei's cooking for me?"

"Yes, my lord."

Hideyoshi took a bite of taro—it was still hot—and the tears once again came to his eyes. The taste of the vegetable seemed to be not only on his tongue but filling his entire body. He felt that the taste was almost too good for someone like him. Although Hanbei was a retainer, he had taught Hideyoshi all of the secret principles of ancient Chinese miltary lore. The things that Hideyoshi had learned while sitting with him every day were not ordinary things: the governing of the people during times of peace and the necessity of self-discipline.

"He shouldn't be doing that." Suddenly, Hideyoshi put down his cup and, leaving the page who had been serving him, went to the kitchen, where Hanbei was cooking rice.

Hideyoshi took him by the hand. "Hanbei, this is too much. Won't you come sit and talk with me for a while instead?"

He led Hanbei back to the room and made him take a cup of sake but because of his illness, Hanbei could do no more than touch it to his lips. The two of them then ate together. It had been a long time since lord and retainer had enjoyed the pleasure of a meal in each other's company.

"It's time to go. But I've been invigorated. Now I can go fight. Hanbei, please take good care of yourself."

When Hideyoshi left the Nanzen Temple, the day had already begun to end, and the sky over the capital was turning crimson.

*  *  *

It was quiet, without even the report of a single firearm—so quiet that one might doubt it was a battlefield, so quiet that the sound of a praying mantis sliding through the dry grass rustled in the ear. It was mid-autumn in the western provinces. The maples had been turning red everywhere on the peaks for the last two or three days, and their redness burned in Hideyoshi's eyes.

Hideyoshi was back at the camp at Mount Hirai. He was seated across from Kanbei, underneath the pine on the hill from which they had viewed the moon some time before. Having talked over a number of things, they had come to an important conclusion.

"Well, you'll go for me, then?"

"I'll be happy to undertake this mission. Whether I succeed is up to heaven."

"I'm counting on you."

"I will do my best, and leave the rest to providence. My going there is just the last chance. If I don't come back alive, you know what follows."

"Nothing but force."

They stood up. The high-pitched cry of the bulbul could be heard from across the valley to the west. The red leaves in that direction were stunning. The two men silently descended the hill and walked toward the camp. The specter of death—and imminent parting—filled the atmosphere of the peaceful afternoon and lay quietly in the thoughts of these two good friends.

"Kanbei." Hideyoshi looked back as he went down the narrow, sloping path. The possibility that his friend would not be coming back again struck him deeply, and he thought Kanbei might have some last things to say. "Is there anything else?"


"Nothing for Himeji Castle?"


"Have you got a message for your father?"

"Just explain to him why I'm going on this mission."

"Very well."

The air had become clear, and it was possible to see the enemy castle at Miki far in the distance. The road leading to the castle had been cut off since summer, so it was easy to imagine the hunger and thirst inside. Nevertheless, as might be expected of the garri­son of Harima's most spirited general and bravest soldiers, it continued throughout the siege to manifest a martial spirit as biting as the autumn frost.

The besieged enemy had been driven to make sallies against the surrounding Oda troops. Hideyoshi, however, gave his men strict orders not to give in to their provocations, and sharply cautioned them against impulsive action.

Again, minute care was taken to allow no news of the external situation to reach the castle. If the men inside the castle heard that Araki Murashige had revolted against Nobunaga, it would strengthen their morale. After all, Murashige's revolt did not simply cause dismay in Azuchi; it threatened the whole western campaign. As a matter of fact, as soon as Odera Masamoto, the lord of Gochaku Castle, became aware of Murashige's re­volt, he made a clear declaration separating himself from Nobunaga and even went one night to the enemy's camp.

'The western provinces should not just be given over into the hands of the invader,' Odera told them. "We should make the Mori clan our rallying point, reorganize our forces, and strike down these outsiders."

Odera Masamoto was Kanbei's father's lord and, therefore, Kanbei's as well. Kanbei therefore, was placed in a dilemma: on the one hand were Nobunaga and Hideyoshi, on the other were his father and his overlord.

Araki Murashige was a man known for his courage, but he was also one who bragged about it. Sensitivity and a clear understanding of the times were far beyond him. He was at the age described by Confucius as "free from vacillation," that is, he was about forty, the age when a man should be mature, but it seemed that Murashige's character had not changed much from what it had been ten years before. Lacking the qualities of thoughtfulness and refinement that he should naturally have possessed, even though he was the lord of a castle he had not advanced a single step from what he was formerly: a fearsome samurai warrior.

It could be said that in attaching him to Hideyoshi as second-in-command, Nobu­naga had made up for Hideyoshi's deficiencies. Murashige, however, did not think of himself in that way. He was always very free with his advice, yet neither Hideyoshi nor Nobutada ever employed his ideas.

He found Hideyoshi annoying. But his feckless thoughts aside, he never showed his antipathy when he met Hideyoshi face to face.

From time to time he would expose his resentment and even laugh out loud before his own retainers. There are some men in this world you can't offend, no matter how angry you get, and to Murashige, Hideyoshi was one of them. At the time of the attack on Kozuki Castle, Murashige had been on the front lines. Yet, when the time was right for the battle and Hideyoshi had given him the order to attack, he had sat there with folded arms and would not budge.

"Why didn't you go out and fight?" Hideyoshi had reprimanded him later.

"I don't participate in a battle I'm not interested in," Murashige had replied without flinching.

Since Hideyoshi had laughed good-naturedly at the time, Murashige had forced a smile too. The matter was closed, but the rumors that passed among the generals in camp were extremely uncomplimentary.

Mitsuhide censured Murashige's conduct heavily. Murashige held in contempt gener­als like Akechi Mitsuhide and Hosokawa Fujitaka, who had the scent of cultured men. He liked to characterize such men as effeminate. This judgment was based on his abhorrence of the poetry parties and tea ceremonies they held in camp. The only thing that did im­press Murashige was that Hideyoshi appeared not to have made a report of his behavior to either Nobunaga or Nobutada.

Murashige looked down on Hideyoshi as a warrior who was more soft-hearted than he, and yet he figured Hideyoshi a hard man to handle precisely because of this. At any rate, the people who really understood his attitude while he was in the field were his ene­mies, the Mori. To them it appeared that Murashige held some grievances, and that if they could talk to him, there was a good possibility they could get him to change sides.

The fact that the secret messengers from both the Mori and the Honganji were able to avoid detection and repeatedly slip in and out of his camp, and even Itami Castle, would indicate that they were not unwelcomed guests. The enemy had already been en­couraged by Murashige, and his actions had been a wordless invitation to them.

When a man without real substance or resourcefulness begins to play at being clever, he is playing with fire. His advisers cautioned their lord any number of times that such a plot could never succeed, but Murashige turned a deaf ear.

"Don't talk foolishness! Especially when the Mori clan has sent me a written pledge."

Having such absolute faith in a written pledge, he very quickly and clearly demonstrated his spirit of rebellion toward Nobunaga. How highly could a written pledge from the Mori—who had been enemies until yesterday—be regarded in these chaotic times, when men tossed aside a pledge between lord and retainer like a pair of worn-out san­dals? Murashige neither thought that far ahead nor felt such a large contradiction to be a contradiction at all.

"He's a fool—an honest man with whom it isn't worth getting angry," Hideyoshi had said to Nobunaga to calm him down, and it was probably the best thing he could have said at the time.

Nobunaga, however, could not look at the situation lightly, and cautioned, "But he's a strong man."

Added to this were the important questions of how the revolt would affect the other generals under his command and what its psychological influence might be. For these reasons, Nobunaga had tried everything, including sending Akechi Mitsuhide to pacify Murashige.

In the end, however, Murashige responded with all the more suspicion, and in the meanwhile strengthened his preparations for war, saying, "I've already demonstrated my hostility, so if I were to fall for Nobunaga's sweet words and respond to Azuchi's sum­mons, I have no doubt that I would be murdered or thrown into prison."

Nobunaga was outraged. Finally, the decision to fight Murashige was announced, and on the ninth day of the Eleventh Month, Nobunaga himself led a force as far as Yamazaki. The army of Azuchi was divided into three parts. The first army, composed of the forces of Takigawa Kazumasu, Akechi Mitsuhide, and Niwa Nagahide, surrounded Ibaragi Cas­tle; the second, made up of the forces under Fuwa, Maeda, Sassa, and Kanamori, besieged Takatsuki Castle.

Nobunaga's headquarters was at Mount Amano. And, while his resplendent line-up was unfolding itself, he still had a faint hope of subjugating the rebellious army without bloodshed. That hope was tied to Hideyoshi, who had now returned to Harima and from whom a message had just arrived.

"I have one more idea," Hideyoshi had written. Behind his words was Hideyoshi's friendship for the man as well as his feeling that Murashige's valor was too valuable to waste, and he appealed earnestly to Nobunaga to wait just a little longer. Hideyoshi's right-hand man, Kuroda Kanbei, had suddenly left the camp at Mount Hirai one night.

The following day, Kanbei hurried to Gochaku Castle, where he met with Odera Masamoto.

There is a rumor that you are supporting Lord Murashige's revolt, and that this castle has turned it back on the Oda clan." He spoke simply and directly, and first appealed to the man heart-to-heart.

A thin smile floated to Masamoto's lips as he listened. In terms of years, Kanbei was the age of his own son; and even in status, he was nothing more than the son of a senior retainer. Thus, his answer was, not surprisingly, extremely arrogant.

"Kanbei, you appear to be serious, but think for a moment. Since this clan became Nobunaga's ally, what have we gotten in return? Nothing."

"I don't think it's just a problem of profit and loss anymore."

"Well then, what is it?"

"It's a matter of loyalty. You are the head of a well-known clan, and have been an ally of the Oda in Harima. Suddenly to join Araki Murashige's revolt and betray your former allies would be a blow to the ideal of loyalty."

"What are you saying?" Masamoto asked. He treated Kanbei as an inexperienced negotiator, and the more fervent Kanbei became, the more coolly Masamoto behaved toward him.

"My reliance on Nobunaga was never a matter of loyalty," he said. "You and your father seem to think that the future of this country is in Nobunaga's hands; and when he took the capital, it was expedient to collude with him. At least that's the way the situation was presented to me, and even I was persuaded. But the truth is that there are many dan­gers facing Nobunaga from now on. Think of it as looking at a large ship out at sea. From the shore it looks safe; you think that if you boarded it, you would have no fear of sailing through turbulent seas. But then you actually get on board and tie your own fate to that of the ship. Now that you've put yourself into its keeping, instead of peace of mind, you find yourself without confidence. Every time you're battered by the waves, you feel uneasy and have doubts about the boat's endurance. This is human nature."

Kanbei unconsciously slapped his knee. "And once you've gotten on board, you can't disembark halfway through the trip."

"Why not? If you see that the boat's not going to make it through the crush of the waves, there may be no other way to save your life than to abandon ship and swim for shore before the ship wrecks. Sometimes you have to close your eyes to your feelings."

"That's shameful thinking, my lord. When the weather clears and the boat that seemed so much in danger raises its sails and finally arrives in port, it is exactly the man who shuddered during a gale, doubted the boat he'd entrusted himself to, betrayed his fellow travelers, and jumped overboard in confusion into the sea, who will be seen as a laughable fool."

"I'm no match for you when it comes to words," Masamoto laughed. "The truth is that you're eloquent beyond eloquence. First you said that when Nobunaga turned his hand to the west, he would quickly sweep over it. But the forces sent with Hideyoshi number a mere five or six thousand. And even though Lord Nobutada and other generals have frequently come to his aid, there's uneasiness in the capital, and it appears as though the army may not be here for very long. Then I am simply used as Hideyoshi's vanguard and am requisitioned for soldiers, horses, and provisions, but it will amount to nothing more than positioning me as a barrier between the Oda and their enemies. Consider the Oda clan's prospects judging simply by the way Araki Murashige—who was promoted to such a responsible post by Nobunaga—completely turned around the situation in the capital when he allied himself with the Mori clan! The reason I left the Oda clan with Murashige should be clear."

"What I've been listening to is a truly wretched plan. I suspect you're going to regret it soon."

"You're still young. You're strong in battle, but not in worldly affairs."

"My lord, I'm begging you to change your mind."

"That's not going to happen. I've made it clear to my retainers that I've made promise to Murashige and taken a stand to ally myself with the Mori."

"But if you considered your decision once more…"

"Before you say any more, talk to Araki Murashige. If he rethinks his defection, I will too."

Adult and child. The difference between the two was not just sophistry. It might be said that even a man like Kanbei, who was considered unique in the west for his talents and progressive ideas, could not have held his own against an opponent like Odera Masamoto, regardless of right or wrong.

Masamoto spoke once more to emphasize his point. "At any rate, take this with you and go to Itami. Then bring me an answer quickly. When I've heard Lord Murashige’s thoughts, I'll give you a definite answer."

Masamoto wrote a note to Araki Murashige. Kanbei put it in his kimono and hurried off to Itami. The situation was pressing, and his own actions could have great consequences. As he approached Itami Castle, he saw that the soldiers were digging trenches and building a palisade.

Seemingly oblivious of the fact that he was quickly surrounded by a ring of spears, said, as if he had nothing to fear, "I'm Kuroda Kanbei from Himeji Castle. I'm an ally neither of Lord Nobunaga nor of Lord Murashige. I've come alone for an urgent private talk with Lord Murashige." And he pushed his way through.

He passed through several fortified gates, finally entered the castle, and quickly met Murashige. His first impression upon looking at Murashige's face was that the man was not as strong-willed as he had expected. Murashige's countenance was not very impresssive. Kanbei perceived his opponent's lack of spirit and self-confidence and wondered why he had chosen to fight Nobunaga, who was considered the most outstanding man of his generation.

"Well, it's been a long time!" Murashige said desultorily. It sounded almost like flattery. Kanbei guessed that for a fierce general like Murashige to treat him in this way meant that he was still somewhat unsure of himself.

Kanbei responded with small talk, smiling fixedly at Murashige. For his part, Murashige was unable to conceal his innate honesty, and looked extraordinarily embarrassed under Kanbei's gaze.

Murashige felt his face turn red. "What is your business?" he asked.

"I've heard rumors."

"About my raising an army?"

"You've gotten yourself into a mess."

'What is everyone saying?"

"Some are saying good things, some bad."

"I suppose opinions are divided. But people should wait until the fighting's over to decide who was right and who was wrong. A man's reputation is never settled until after his death."

“Have you considered what will happen after you die?"

"Of course."

"If that's so, then I'm sure you know that the consequences of your decision are irrevocable."

"Why is that?"

"The bad name you'll get from turning against a lord from whom you've received so many favors won't die out for generations."

Murashige fell silent. The throbbing of his temples showed that he was full of emotion, but he did not have the eloquence for a refutation.

"The sake is ready," a retainer announced.

Murashige looked relieved. He stood up. "Kanbei, come inside. It has been a long time, everything else aside. Let's have a drink together," he suggested.

Murashige showed himself a generous host. A banquet had been prepared in the main citadel. The two men naturally avoided any argument as they drank sake, and Murashige's expression relaxed considerably. At some point, however, Kanbei broached the subject again.

"How about it, Murashige? Why don't you stop this thing before it goes too far?"

"Before what goes too far?"

"This petty show of strength."

"My resolution in this grave concern has nothing to do with a show of strength."

"That may be true, but the world is calling it treachery. How do you feel about that?"

"Come on, have some more sake!'

"I'm not going to deceive myself. You've gone to a lot of trouble for me today, but your sake tastes just a little bitter."

"You were sent here by Hideyoshi."

"Of course. Even Lord Hideyoshi is extraordinarily worried about you. Not only that, but he defends you absolutely, regardless of what other people say about you. He calls you ‘a valuable man' and 'a stalwart warrior.' He says that we should not make a mistake, and I can tell you that he'll never forget your friendship."

Murashige sobered up a little and, in some measure, spoke from his heart. "In fact, I received two or three letters from Hideyoshi admonishing me, and I'm moved by his friendship. But Akechi Mitsuhide and other Oda retainers came one after another as Lord Nobunaga's envoys and I rebuffed them all. Certainly I can't comply with Hideyoshi's request now."

"I don't think that's true. If you'll leave the matter to Lord Hideyoshi, he'll surely be able to manage some way of mediating with Lord Nobunaga."

"I don't think so," Murashige said sullenly. "They're saying that when Mitsuhide and Nobumori heard that I had rebelled, they clapped their hands and rejoiced. Mitsuhide came here to appease me. He soothed me with pretty words, but who knows what kind of report he made when he returned to Nobunaga. If I opened my castle and returned to kneel before Nobunaga, in the end he'd only order his men to grab me by the scruff of the neck and cut off my head. None of my retainers is of a mind to return to Nobunaga.  They're at the point where they feel that fighting to the end would be best, so this is not just my own opinion. When you go back to Harima, please tell Hideyoshi not to think badly of me."

It seemed that Kanbei was not going to be able to persuade Murashige easily. After a few more cups of sake, he took out Odera Masamoto's letter and handed it to Murashige.

Kanbei had already looked over the gist of the contents. It was simple, but it censured Murashige's behavior earnestly. Murashige moved closer to the lamp and opened it, but just as he finished reading it, he excused himself and left the room.

As he went out, a group of soldiers crowded into the room. They surrounded Kanbei, forming a wall of armor and spears around him.

"Get up!" they shouted.

Kanbei put down his cup and looked at the agitated faces around him. "What hap­pens if I do?" he asked.

"Lord Murashige's orders are to escort you to the castle jail," answered one of the soldiers.

"Jail?" he blurted out, and he wanted to laugh out loud. At the moment he thought it was all over for him, and he saw how funny he must look for having fallen into Murashige's trap.

He stood up, a smile on his face. "Let's go, then. There's nothing I can do but go meekly, if this is Lord Murashige's show of courtesy."

The warriors escorted Kanbei down the main corridor. The noisy clatter of their armor blended with their footsteps. They went down any number of dark corridors and stairways. Kanbei was made to walk in places that were so dark he could have been blind­folded, and he wondered if he might not be killed at any time. He was more or less pre­pared for such an event, but it did not seem to be forthcoming. At any rate, the lightless place he walked along seemed to be a complicated passageway weaving through the bow­els of the castle. After a while, a heavy sliding door clattered open.

"Inside!" he was ordered, and after taking about ten paces forward, he found himself in the middle of a cell. The door slammed shut behind him. This time, Kanbei did laugh out loud into the darkness. Then he turned to the wall and spoke with self-scorn, almost as though he were reciting a poem.

"I myself have fallen into Murashige's trap. Well, well… public morals certainly have become complicated, haven't they?"

He guessed that he was beneath an armory. As far as he could tell by feeling with the soles of his feet, the floor was made of thick, knotted planks. Kanbei walked along calmly, following the four walls. He was able to judge that the area of the cell was about thirty square meters.

No, the way I see it is that Murashige is the man to be pitied. What does he think he's going to accomplish by imprisoning me?

He sat down cross-legged in what was evidently the center of the cell. His buttocks were cold, but there seemed to be nothing to sit on in the room.

He suddenly realized that he hadn't had to give up his short sword, and thought, That's something to be thankful for. If I just have this one weapon… at any time I could….

He silently told himself that even if his buttocks were numbed, his spirit would not be. The Zen meditation that he had practiced so hard in his youth would now perhaps be of use.   Such things came to mind as time went by. I'm glad I came, was his next thought. If Hideyoshi had come himself, this small disaster would have been replaced by a great one. I'm grateful that it has turned out this way.

Soon a thin stripe of light shone in his face. Kanbei calmly looked toward the light. A window had been opened. A man's face appeared on the other side of the lattice. It was Araki Murashige.

"Is it cold in there, Kanbei?" Murashige asked. Kanbei looked in his direction and finally answered him with total calm. "No, I'm still warm from the sake, but it might get uncomfortable around midnight. If Lord Hideyoshi hears that Kuroda Kanbei has frozen to death, he'll probably arrive before dawn and expose your head on the gate in the frost.  Murashige, you're a man with decent brains. What do you plan to accomplish by keeping me here?"

Murashige was at a loss for words. He was also aware that he was being shamed by his own actions. Eventually, however, he laughed scornfully.

"Stop your grumbling, Kanbei. You're saying that I have no brains, but aren't you the one who witlessly fell into this trap?"

"Abusive language is not going to help you. Can't you talk logically?"

Murashige said nothing, and Kanbei went on, "You're prone to admonishing me as some sort of strategist or demon of tactics, but I concern myself with fundamental policies, not petty tricks. I have never considered plotting against a friend and making a merit of it. I was simply thinking of you, and of Lord Hideyoshi's distress. That's why I came here alone. Can't you understand? What about Lord Hideyoshi's friendship? What about your loyalty?"

Murashige did not know how to answer. He fell silent for a while, but finally pulled together a rebuttal. "You talk about friendship and moral principles, but these are words that only have luster during times of peace. It's different now. The country is at war with itself, and the world is in chaos. If you don't plot, you're plotted against; if you don't inflict injury, someone will inflict injury on you. This is a world so grim that you may have to kill or be killed in the time it takes you to pick up your chopsticks. Yesterday's ally is today's enemy, and if a man is your enemy—even if he is your friend—there's nothing you can do but throw him in prison. It's all tactics. One could say that it's out of compassion that I haven't killed you yet."

"I see. Now I understand your view of the world, your everyday thoughts on warfare, and the extent of your morality. You have the pitiful blindness of the times, and I don't fee1 like talking things over with you anymore. Go ahead, destroy yourself!"

"What? You're saying I'm blind?"

"That's right. No, even though it's come to this, I can't seem to abandon the last little bit of friendship I have for you. I have one more thing I'll teach you."

"What? Does the Oda clan have some secret strategy?"

"It's not a matter of advantages and disadvantages. You're a pitiful individual. Although you're famous for your courage, you're ignorant of how to live in this chaotic country. Not only that, but you have no desire to save the world from this chaos. You're inhuman, lower than a townsman or a farmer. How can you call yourself a samurai?"

"What! You're saying I'm not human?"

"That's right. You're a beast."

"What did you say?"

"Go ahead! Get as angry as you can. It's all directed against yourself. Listen, Murashige. If men lose morality and loyalty, the world becomes nothing but a world of beasts. We fight and fight again, and the hellfire of human rivalry is never exhausted. If you con­sider only battle, intrigue, and power, and forget morality and human-heartedness, you won't stop at being an enemy of Lord Nobunaga. You'll be an enemy of all humankind and a plague to the entire earth. As far as I'm concerned, if you're that kind of person, I'd be glad to twist off your head."

Speaking his mind and then sinking into silence, Kanbei could hear a clamor going on. Outside the prison window, Murashige was surrounded by his retainers and personal attendants, and they were all yelling.

"Cut him down!"

"No, we can't kill him."

"He's insufferable."

"Calm yourselves!"

It appeared that Murashige was caught between those who wanted to pull Kanbei out and butcher him on the spot and those who declared that killing him would have adverse results. And he seemed unable to come to a decision.

In the end, however, they concluded that even if they were going to kill him, there was no particular hurry to do so. After that they seemed to settle down, and the footsteps of Murashige and the rest could be heard clattering off into the distance.

From observing this event, Kanbei quickly understood the mood of the entire castle.

Although the banner of revolt had been clearly unfurled, even now there were those who indignantly wanted to fight the Oda and others who advocated cooperating with their former allies. Under the same roof, they feuded on almost every single point, and the situation could be read easily.

Murashige, who was caught up in this dispute, had driven away Nobunaga's envoys and increased his military preparations. Now he had thrown Kanbei into prison.

It appears that he's come to his doom. Ah, how sad, Kanbei thought. Without regret­ting his own fate, he lamented Murashige's ignorance. After the voices had drifted away, the peephole was closed again, but Kanbei was suddenly aware of a slip of paper that had fallen through. He picked it up, but could not read it that night. It was so dark in the cell he could hardly see his own fingers.

The next day, however, when the faint light of morning filtered in, he remembered the paper right away and read it. It was a letter from Odera Masamoto in Harima, ad­dressed to Araki Murashige.

This same bothersome character we talked about has come here, admonishing me to change my mind. I deceived him into trying to ascertain your mind first, so he'll probably arrive at your castle at the same time this letter arrives. He is a man of broad resources, so he'll be a burden as long as he's alive. When he gets to Itami Castle, I suggest that you take the opportunity and not let him loose in the world again.

Kanbei was shocked. When he looked at the date on the letter, he saw that it was indeed the same day that he himself had offered his remonstration to Masamoto and left Gochaku Castle.

"Well then, he must have sent this letter right afterward," he muttered to himself in amazement. He was struck by the realization that there are a large number of clever people in the world. And yet the world had called him—he who had taken such pains to abstain from shallow thinking and petty schemes—a tactician.

"It's interesting, isn't it? Being in the world."

Looking up at the ceiling, he spoke without being aware of it. The sound of his voice echoed as though he were in a cave. How interesting to be in the world.

As one might expect, there were lies and there were truths, there was form and there was void, there was anger and there was joy, there was faith and there was confusion. This was being in the world. But for a few weeks at least, Kanbei would be far away from the world.

*    *    *

The attacking forces disposed around Itami, Takatsuki, and Ibaragi castles were ready strike at any time. Nevertheless, the order to attack had not yet come from Nobunaga's headquarters on Mount Amano. In the various camps, the days passed so quietly that the soldiers' patience was beginning to wear thin.

"Still no word?"

Nobunaga had already asked this question twice that day. What he was having difficulty waiting for, however, was just the opposite of the source of the soldiers' impatience.  At this point, the Oda clan's position was extraordinarily and dangerously complex—not in regard to the western or eastern provinces, but right around the capital. If at all possible, Nobunaga did not want to fight a war here, at this time. And as the days passed, he worried over this policy of avoiding action in his home area at all costs.

Whenever he was anxious, Hideyoshi occupied his thoughts. He wanted him constantly at his side. Not long before, a report had come from this general upon whom he relied so much, telling him that Kanbei had stated his case to his former master, Odera Masamoto, and then had gone immediately to Itami Castle, where he intended to persuade Murashige to negotiate. Kanbei was even prepared to die on this mission, Hideyoshi had said, and he asked Nobunaga to wait.

"This shows a lot of self-confidence," Nobunaga said, "and Hideyoshi's not apt to be negligent."

But even though Nobunaga in this way persuaded himself to be patient, the atmosphere at his field headquarters was becoming charged with his generals' extreme annoyance. Whenever Hideyoshi made some trivial mistake, their resentment would erupt as though it had been smoldering under the ashes for a long time.

"I don't understand why Hideyoshi sent the man! Who is this Kanbei, anyway? If you look into his background, he turns out to be a retainer of Odera Masamoto. And his father is a senior retainer of Masamoto too. For his part, Masamoto is conspiring with Araki Murashige in communicating with the Mori and betraying us. He's acting in concert with Murashige while he has raised the banner of rebellion in the western provinces.  How could Hideyoshi have chosen Kanbei for such an important mission?"

Hideyoshi was criticized for his lack of foresight, and some even went so far as to suspect him of negotiating with the Mori.

The reports that began to come in all contained the same information: far from submitting to Kanbei's argument, Odera Masamoto had spoken out against Lord Nobunaga all the more. He had spread stories about the weakness of the Oda forces in the area. Moreover, his communications with the Mori had become more and more frequent.

Nobunaga had to admit that this was true.

"Kanbei's action was nothing but a deception. While we wait for good news from such an unreliable man, the enemy strengthens his connections and perfects his defenses, so that in the end our forces will achieve nothing, regardless of how fierce our attack is."

At that point, news finally came from Hideyoshi. It was, however, not good. Kanbei had still not returned, and there was no clear information. Moreover, the letter sounded hopeless. Nobunaga clicked his tongue. Suddenly he tossed aside the satchel that had contained the letter.

"It's too late!" Finally provoked, Nobunaga suddenly roared out angrily, "Secretary! Write this immediately and address it to Hideyoshi. Tell him he's to come here without a moment's delay."

Then he looked at Sakuma Nobumori and said, "I've heard that Takenaka Hanbei has confined himself in the Nanzen Temple in Kyoto to convalesce. Is he still there?"

"I believe he is."

Nobunaga's response to Nobumori's reply was as quick as an echo. "Well then, go there and tell this to Hanbei: Kuroda Kanbei's son, Shojumaru, was sent to his castle by Hideyoshi some time ago as a hostage—he is to be beheaded immediately, and his head sent to his father in Itami."

Nobumori bowed. Everyone around Nobunaga momentarily crouched in fear of his sudden anger. Not a voice was heard, and for a moment, Nobumori did not get up. Nobunaga's mood was capable of changing from one moment to the next, and his anger exploded without much difficulty. The patience he had exhibited until now was not part of his true nature. That had been strictly a matter of reasoning, into which he had had to put much effort. Therefore, when he did throw off the self-control that he so disliked and raised his voice, his earlobes began to redden, and his face suddenly took on a ferocious appearance.

"My lord, please wait a moment."

"What is it, Kazumasu? Are you admonishing me?"

"It would be presumptuous for someone like me to admonish you, my lord, but why have you so suddenly given an order to kill Kuroda Kanbei's son? Shouldn't you deliberate on this a bit longer?"

"I don't need to deliberate any more to see Kanbei's treason. He pretended to talk to Odera Masamoto, and then deceived me again into thinking that he was negotiating with Araki Murashige. That I've refrained from taking action for the last ten days is entirely be­cause of that damned Kanbei's schemes. Hideyoshi reported that to me just now. Hideyoshi's had enough of being made a fool of by Kanbei."

"But what if you summoned Lord Hideyoshi to give you a full report of the situation and talked with him about punishing Kanbei's son?"

"I can't make a peacetime decision at a time like this. And I'm not ordering Hide­yoshi here to listen to his opinion. I'm asking him to explain how he fomented this disas­ter. Hurry up and take the message, Nobumori."

"Yes, my lord. I'll convey this to Hanbei, as you wish."

Nobunaga's mood was gradually becoming darker. He turned to the scribe and asked, 'Did you write my summons to Hideyoshi, secretary?"

"Would you like to read it, my lord?"

The letter was shown to Nobunaga and then immediately passed to the chief messenger, who was ordered to take it to Harima.

But before the messenger was able to leave, a retainer announced, "Lord Hideyoshi has just now arrived."

"What? Hideyoshi?" Nobunaga's expression remained the same, but for an instant it seemed that his anger had softened.

Soon Hideyoshi's voice could be heard, and it rang out as cheerfully as usual. As soon as Nobunaga heard Hideyoshi, he had to make an effort to maintain his angry expression. His anger melted in his breast the way ice melts under the sun, and there was nothing he could do about it.

With a casual greeting to the generals who were present, Hideyoshi entered the en-dosure. He passed through the assembled generals and knelt courteously before Nobu­naga, then looked up at his lord.

Nobunaga said nothing. He was trying hard to show his anger. There were not many commanders who could do anything other than prostrate themselves in fear when they encountered Nobunaga's silence.

In fact, there was no one even in Nobunaga's family who could withstand this treatment. If veteran generals like Katsuie and Nobumori came under Nobunaga's angry eye, they would turn absolutely pale. Seasoned men like Niwa and Takigawa would become confused and mumble excuses. With all his wisdom, Akechi Mitsuhide had no way of dealing with it, and even all of Nobunaga's affection was no help at all to Ranmaru. But Hideyoshi's handling of such situations was quite different. When Nobunaga was angry and would scowl and glare at him, Hideyoshi would manifest no reaction at all. It was not that he took his lord lightly. On the contrary, he was, more than most men, awed by Nobunaga. Generally, he would look up placidly as though gazing at a threatening sky and desist from speaking except in the most commonplace way.

His Lordship is a little angry again, Hideyoshi was now thinking. This composure seemed to be part of Hideyoshi's own special nature, and certainly no one was able to imitate him. If Katsuie or Mitsuhide had copied Hideyoshi's behavior, they would have been throwing oil on a fire, and Nobunaga would have exploded into a fit of anger. Nobunaga appeared to be losing the game of patience. Finally he spoke.

"Hideyoshi, why did you come here?"

"I came to receive your reprimand," Hideyoshi answered with deep respect.

He always has a good answer, Nobunaga thought. It was growing more and more difficult to stay angry. He was going to have to speak deliberately, as though he had chewed the words up and were spitting them out. "What do you mean, you've come to be reprimanded? Did you think this matter was going to be finished with an apology? You made a great error that affects not only me but the entire army."

"You've already read the letter I sent to you?"

"I have!"

"Sending Kanbei as an intermediary clearly ended in failure. In this connection—

"Is that an excuse?"

"No, but to serve as an apology, I galloped through enemy lines to offer a plan that might turn this disaster into good fortune. I would like to ask you either to order the a cleared of everyone here or to move elsewhere. After that, if there is to be some puniment for my crime, I will respectfully accept it."

Nobunaga thought for a moment, then granted his request and ordered everyone to leave. The other generals were dumbstruck by Hideyoshi's audacity, but, looking back and forth at each other, they could only withdraw. There were some who accused him of impudence even in the face of his crime. Others clicked their tongues and called him self-seeking. Hideyoshi looked as though he were paying no attention, and waited until he and Nobunaga were the only ones left in the enclosure. When everyone had gone, Nobunaga's appearance softened somewhat.

"So what kind of suggestion do you have that made you ride all the way here from Harima?"

"I have a way to attack Itami. At this point, the only thing left to do is to strike Araki Murashige resolutely."

"That's been true from the beginning. Not that Itami is so important, but if the Honganji and Murashige act in concert with the Mori, there could be considerable trouble.”

"Not that much, I think. If we move too fast, our troops could suffer considerably; and if there is even the slightest failure among our allies, the embankment you have built up so carefully until now could crumble all at once."

"So what would you do?"

"I had no plan of my own, but Takenaka Hanbei, who has been in the capital convalescing, was able to see through the present situation." Hideyoshi then related the plan to Nobunaga exactly as he had heard it from Hanbei. Essentially, the plan against Itami Castle called for allowing as little damage to their own troops as possible. Taking whatever time was required, they would first put all of their strength into isolating Murashige by clipping his wings.

Nobunaga accepted the plan without the least hesitation. It was, more or less, what he had been thinking of doing himself. The plan was set, and Nobunaga completely forgot about reprimanding Hideyoshi. There were still a number of things to ask Hideyoshi about in regard to their later strategies.

"Since we've dealt with the most urgent business, perhaps I should start off for Harima today," Hideyoshi said, looking up at the evening sky. Nobunaga, however, told him that the roads were so dangerous that he should return by ship that night. And since he was going by ship and there would be enough time, his lord was not going to let him go without a drink.

Hideyoshi sat a little straighter and asked, "Are you going to let me go without being punished?"

Nobunaga forced a smile. "Well, what should I do?" he joked.

"When you forgive me but still don't say anything, somehow the sake I receive from you doesn't go down my throat very well."

Nobunaga broke out laughing happily for the first time.

"That's good, that's good."

"In that case," Hideyoshi said, as though he had been waiting for the right moment, “Kanbei shares no blame either, does he? And the messenger with the command to cut off his son's head has already left, I believe."

"No, you can't be the guarantor for what is in Kanbei's mind. How can you say he's without blame? I'm not going to withdraw my order to have his son's head sent to Itami Castle. It's a matter of military discipline, and it won't do any good to intervene." Thus Nobunaga highhandedly sealed his retainer's mouth.

Hideyoshi returned to Harima that night, but upon his return, secretly had a messenger take a letter to Hanbei in the capital. What was in the letter will be understood later on, but essentially it concerned his private agony over the son of his friend and adviser, Kuroda Kanbei.

Nobunaga's messenger also hurried to Kyoto. On his way back, he stopped for a short time at the Church of the Ascension. When he returned to Nobunaga's main camp on Mount Amano, he was accompanied by the Italian Jesuit, Father Gnecchi, a missionary who had been in Japan for many years. There were many Christian missionaries in Sakai, Azuchi, and Kyoto, but among them, Father Gnecchi was the foreigner whom Nobunaga most favored. Nobunaga did not dislike Christians. And, even though he had fought the Buddhists and burned their strongholds, he did not dislike Buddhism either, for he recognized the intrinsic value of religion.

Not just Father Gnecchi, but all of the many Catholic missionaries who were invited to Azuchi from time to time went to great pains to try to convert Nobunaga to Christianity. But grasping Nobunaga's heart was the same as trying to ladle the reflection of the moon out of a bucket of water.

One of the Catholic fathers had given Nobunaga a black slave he had brought with him from across the sea, because Nobunaga had looked upon the man with considerable curiosity. Whenever Nobunaga left the castle, even when he went to Kyoto, he included the black slave in his entourage. The missionaries were a little jealous and once asked Nobunaga, "You seem so interested in your black slave, my lord. Exactly what is it that you find so pleasing in him?"

"I'm good to all of you, aren't I?" he quickly replied. This quite clearly indicated Nobunaga's feelings toward the missionaries. The way in which he liked Father Gnecchi and the other fathers was essentially equal to his affection for his black slave. Which brings up another point: when Father Gnecchi had his first audience with Nobunaga, he presented him with gifts from overseas. The list included ten guns, eight telescopes and magnifying glasses, fifty tiger skins, a mosquito net, and one hundred pieces of aloeswood. There were also such rare items as a timepiece, a world globe, textile goods, and chinawear.

Nobunaga had all of these things lined up on display, and gazed at them as a child might. He was especially taken by the globe and the guns. With the globe in front of them, he listened intently night after night as Father Gnecchi told him about his home, Italy; the distances across the seas; the differences between northern and southern Europe; and about his travels through India, Annam, Luzon, and southern China. There was one other man present who would listen even more intently and asked any number of questions—Hideyoshi.

"Ah, I'm really glad you've come." Nobunaga happily welcomed Father Gnecchi to his camp.

"What can this be about, my lord? Your summons was so urgent."

"Well, sit down." Nobunaga pointed to a chair used by Zen abbots.

"Why, thank you," Father Gnecchi said, easing into the chair. He was like a reserve pawn on a chessboard, wondering when he might be used. And Nobunaga had invited him here for precisely that reason.

"Father, you once gave me a petition on behalf of the missionaries in Japan, in which you asked permission to build a church and to spread Christianity."

"I don't know how many years we have longed for the day when you would accept our plea."

"Somehow it seems that that day is approaching."

"What? Do we have your permission?"

"Not unconditionally. It is not a custom of the samurai simply to give out special privileges to men who have done no meritorious deeds."

"What exactly do you mean, my lord?"

"I understand that Takayama Ukon of Takatsuki was converted to Christianity when he was about fourteen years old and is even now a fervent believer. I can imagine you're on quite friendly terms with him."

"Takayama Ukon, my lord?"

"As you know, he's joined Araki Murashige's rebellion and has sent two of his children to Itami Castle as hostages."

"This is truly a sad situation, and we, his friends in religion, are much pained by it. I don't know how many prayers we have sent to God for His divine protection."

"Is that so? Well, Father Gnecchi, in times like these, the prayers you offer at the chapel in your temple do not seem to manifest any effects. If you're really that anxious about Ukon, you'll obey the command I'm giving you now. I want you to go to Takatsuk Castle and enlighten Takayama Ukon on the matter of his indiscretion."

"If that's something I can do, I'll be happy to go anytime. But I understand that his castle is already surrounded by the forces of Lord Nobutada as well as those of Lords Fuwa, Maeda, and Sassa. Perhaps they won't let me through."

"I'll provide you an escort and give you a guarantee of passage. It will be a great meritorious deed for the missionaries if you can explain this issue to the Takayama—both father and son—and convince them to enter my ranks. Then you will have my permission to have a church and the freedom to do missionary work. You have my word."

"Oh, my lord…"

"But wait," Nobunaga told Father Gnecchi. "You should understand very clearly that if, on the contrary, Ukon rejects your proposal and continues to defy me, I'm going to regard all Christians the same way that I regard the Takayama; and that I will quite naturally  demolish your temple, exterminate your religion in Japan, and execute every last one of your missionaries and their followers. I want you to leave with that understanding."

The blood drained from Father Gnecchi's face, and for a moment, he cast his eyes to the ground. Not one of the men who had boarded a sailing ship and come east from faraway Europe could have possessed a faint or cowardly heart, but sitting before Nobunaga and being spoken to in this manner, Father Gnecchi felt his body shrink and his heart grow cold with fear. There was really nothing that gave the figure of Nobunaga the appearance of the devil himself, and in fact both his features and his speech were quite elegant. It had been engraved into the missionaries' minds, however, that this man said nothing he did not put into practice. Previous examples of this fact could be seen in both the destruction of Mount Hiei and the subjugation of Nagashima. In fact, this truth could be seen in every policy Nobunaga had ever conceived.

"I'll go. I'll be the envoy you're ordering me to be, and I'll go to meet with Lord Ukon," Father Gnecchi promised.

With an escort of a dozen mounted men, he headed out on the road to Takatsuki. After seeing Father Gnecchi off, Nobunaga felt that everything had gone exactly as he had desired. But Father Gnecchi, who had seemingly been led off by the nose to Takatsuki Castle, was congratulating himself as well. This foreigner was not as easy to manipulate as Nobunaga thought. It was well known among the common people of Kyoto that few people were as shrewd as the Jesuits. Before Nobunaga had even summoned him, Father Gnecchi had already exchanged letters with Takayama Ukon several times. Ukon's father had often asked his spiritual adviser what heaven's will might be in the matter at hand. Father Gnecchi had written the same response over and over again. The correct way did not lie in acting contrary to the wishes of one's lord. Lord Nobunaga was Murashige's master and Ukon's as well.

Ukon had written expressing his deepest feelings.

We've sent two of our children to the Araki as hostages, so that my wife and mother are strongly against submitting to Lord Nobunaga. If it were not for that, I would not want my name associated with rebellion, either.

So, for Father Gnecchi, the success of this mission and the rewards to follow were a foregone conclusion. He had the conviction that Ukon already agreed with what he himself was suggesting.

Soon afterward, Takayama Ukon announced that he could not just look away as his religion was destroyed, even if his wife and children hated him for defending it. One could abandon one's castle and family, he declared, but not the one true way. Secretly leaving the castle one night, he fled to the Church of the Ascension. His father, Hida, immediately sought refuge with Araki Murashige at Itami, and bitterly explained the situation, saying, "We've been betrayed by my worthless son."

There were many people in Murashige's camp who had close and friendly relations with the Takayama clan, and so he could not insist on the punishment of the Takayama hostages. So, although Murashige was a rather insensitive man, he was vaguely aware of the intricacies of the situation.

"There's nothing to be done. If Ukon has run away, the hostages are useless." Regarding the two little children as nothing more than hangers-on, he returned them to Ukon's father. When Father Gnecchi received this information, he went with Ukon to Mount Amano for an audience with Nobunaga.

"You did well." Nobunaga was delighted. He told Ukon that he would grant him a domain in Harima, and presented him with silk kimonos and a horse.

"I would like to take the tonsure and dedicate my life to God," Ukon pleaded.

But Nobunaga would not hear of it, saying, "That's ridiculous for a man so young."

So, in the end, the affair went as Nobunaga had planned and as Father Gnecchi had anticipated. However, the way in which Ukon had conducted himself, resulting in the re­turn of his children, had all been Father Gnecchi's clever scheme.

Yesterday's conditions can hardly be thought of in terms of today's, for time works its transfigurations moment by moment. Neither is it unreasonable to change one's course of action. The reasons for which men have erred in their ambitions and lost their lives are as plentiful as mushrooms after a shower.

It was toward the end of the Eleventh Month. Nakagawa Sebei—the man upon whom Araki Murashige depended as on his own right arm—suddenly left his castle and submitted to Nobunaga.

"This is a significant time for the nation; we should not punish small mistakes," Nobunaga said, and not only did not question Sebei about his crime but also presented him with thirty gold coins. He presented gold and clothing to the three retainers who had come with him, as well. Sebei had surrendered in response to Takayama Ukon's appeal.

The Oda generals wondered why these men were being treated so kindly. While Nobunaga was aware that there was some dissatisfaction among his own men, there was nothing else he could do if he wanted to achieve his military objectives.

Conciliation, diplomacy, and patience did not conform with his nature. Violent, fierce attacks, therefore, continually rained down upon the enemy. For example, Nobunaga attacked Hanakuma Castle in Hyogo and showed no mercy in burning down the temples and surrounding villages. He did not forgive the slightest hostile action, whether it was committed by the old or the young, by men or by women. But now his maneuvering on the one hand and his intimidations on the other were coming to fruition.

Araki Murashige was isolated in Itami Castle, a stronghold that had had both of its wings clipped. His battle array no longer included Takayama Ukon or Nakagawa Sebei.

"If we strike now, he'll fall down like a scarecrow," Nobunaga said. He believed that Itami could now be taken anytime he liked. A combined attack was commenced at the beginning of the Twelfth Month. On the very first day, the attack began before evening and continued into the night. Resistance, however, was unexpectedly stiff. The comman­der of one corps of the attacking troops was struck down and killed, and there were hun­dreds of dead and wounded.

On the second day the number of casualties continued to increase, but not a single inch of the castle walls had been taken. Murashige was famous for his courage, after all, and there were a good many gallant men among his troops. More than that, when Murashige himself had been ready to fold up the flag of revolt following Nobunaga's attempts at appeasing him, it had been his family members and officers who had restrained him by saying, “To give up now would be the same as presenting him with our own heads."

The news of the start of these hostilities also quickly echoed throughout Harima and shook the officials in Osaka. Shock waves were spreading as far as Tamba and the Sanin.

First, in the western provinces, Hideyoshi immediately started the attack on Miki Castle, and had the auxiliary troops of Nobumori and Tsutsui push the Mori back to the boders of Bizen. He had thought that as soon as the Mori clan heard the shouts from the capital, its army would march on Kyoto. In Tamba, the Hatano clan considered that the tide was now favorable, and began to rebel. Akechi Mitsuhide and Hosokawa Fujitaka had been governing that area, and rushed to its defense in the nick of time.

The Honganji and the huge forces of the Mori communicated by ship-borne messengers, and the enemies that now faced Nobunaga, Hideyoshi, and Mitsuhide all danced to the music of these two powers.

"It's probably finished here," Nobunaga said, gazing at Itami Castie. Which was to say that he considered everything to be in order. Although Itami Castle was completely isolated, it had not surrendered. In Nobunaga's eyes, however, it had already fallen. Leaving the encircling army, he suddenly returned to Azuchi.

It was the end of the year. Nobunaga planned on spending New Year's at Azuchi. It was a year that had been filled with unexpected disturbances and campaigns, but as he looked over the streets of the castle town, he caught the scent of a rich new culture rising through the air. Shops both large and small were lined up in an orderly fashion, bringing Nobunaga's economic policies to fruition. Guests overflowed the inns and post stations, while at the lakeside, the masts of the anchored ships resembled a forest.

Both the residential area of the samurai, wound all through with small paths, and the magnificent mansions of the great generals had for the most part been completed. The Temples, too, had been expanded, and Father Gnecchi had also begun to build a church.

What is called "culture" is as intangible as mist. What had begun as a simple act of destruction was suddenly taking form as an epoch-making new culture right at Nobunaga's feet. In music, theater, painting, literature, religion, the tea ceremony, clothing, cooking, and architecture, old styles and attitudes were being abandoned, and the new and fresh were being adopted. Even the new patterns for women's silk kimonos rivaled each other in this burgeoning Azuchi culture.

This is the New Year I've been waiting for, and it is a New Year for the nation. It's hardly necessary to say that to build is more pleasant than to destroy, Nobunaga thought, imagining that the new dynamic culture would move like an incoming tide, flooding the eastern provinces, the capital, and even the west and the island of Kyushu, leaving no place untouched.

Nobunaga was absorbed in such thoughts when Sakuma Nobumori, with the bright sun shining at his back, greeted him and stepped into the room. Seeing Nobumori, Nobunaga suddenly remembered.

"Ah, that's right. How did that affair go afterward?" he asked quickly, passing the cup in his hand to the page who delivered it to Nobumori.

Nobumori raised the cup reverently to his forehead, and said, "That affair?" He peered at his master's brow.

"That's right. I told you about Shojumaru, didn't I? Kanbei's son—the one who's in Takenaka Hanbei's castle as a hostage."

"Ah, you mean the matter of the hostage."

"I sent you with an order for Hanbei to cut off Shojumaru's head and send it to Itami. But afterward there was no response even though the head was supposed to have been cut off and sent. Have you heard anything?"

"No, my lord." Nobumori shook his head and, as he spoke, he appeared to be remembering his mission of the year before. He had accomplished his mission, but Shojumaru had been placed in Takenaka Hanbei's care in Mino, so the execution was unlikely to have been carried out immediately.

"If this is Lord Nobunaga's command, it will be carried out, but I will need some more time," Hanbei had said, acknowledging the request in a normal fashion and, of course, Nobumori had understood.

"Well then, I have given you His Lordship's order," Nobumori had added, and promptly returned to report to Nobunaga.

Owing possibly to his own responsibilities, Nobunaga seemed to have forgotten about the matter; but the fact was that Nobumori, too, had not really kept the fate of Shojumaru in mind. He had simply assumed that Hanbei would report the boy's execution di­rectly to Nobunaga.

"You have heard nothing else about it from either Hideyoshi or Hanbei, my lord?"

"They haven't said a word about it."

"That's rather suspicious."

"You're sure you spoke to Hanbei?"

"That's hardly necessary to ask. But he's been extraordinarily lazy recently," Nobu­mori mumbled vexatiously, and then added, "To have considered this simply as a mea­sure affecting the child of a traitor, and not yet to have taken any action on Your Lordship's important command, would be a crime of disobedience that could not be ig­nored. On my way back to the front, I'll stop in Kyoto and very definitely question Han­bei about it."

"Really?" Nobunaga's response did not show much interest. The strictness of the command he had given at that time and the way he was recalling the matter right now re­flected two completely different frames of mind. He did not, however, tell Nobumori to forget about it. Certainly, that would have meant a complete loss of face for the man who had been sent on the mission.

How was Nobumori to take this? Perhaps he thought that Nobunaga believed he had executed his mission incompetently, for he quickly finished with his congratulations for the New Year, took his leave from the castle and, on his return to the besieged castle at Itami, purposely stopped at the Nanzen Temple.

He told the priest who greeted him, "I know Lord Hanbei is confined indoors be­cause of his illness, but I've come on a mission from Lord Nobunaga." His request for a interview was expressed in extraordinarily severe and imperative terms. The monk left, then returned quickly, and invited to follow him.

Nobumori replied with a nod, and followed the priest. The sliding paper doors of the thatched building were closed, but incessant coughing—probably prompted by Hanbei's leaving his sickbed in order to meet his guest—could be heard coming from inside. Nobumori lingered outside for a moment. The appearance of the sky suggested snow.  Though it was still midday, it was frigid in the shadow of the mountains around the temple.

'Come in," a voice invited from within, and an attendant opened the sliding doors to a small reception room. The lean figure of his master was propped up on the floor. "Welcome," Hanbei said in greeting.

Nobumori walked in and said without preamble, "Last year I brought you His Lord­'s order to execute Kuroda Shojumaru, and I expected the matter to be dealt with without delay. There has been no positive response since then, however, and even Lord Nobunaga has become concerned.What you have to say for yourself."

"Well, well…" Hanbei began, bowing with his hands to the floor and exposing a back as thin as a board. "Have I inadvertently made His Lordship worry because of my care­lessness? I am doing as much as I can to hurry and obey His Lordship's will as my illness gradually gets better."

"What! What are you saying?" Nobumori was losing his self-control. Or better said, judging by the color of his face, he was so angered by Hanbei's answer that he could not repress his exasperation or untangle his tongue. Heaving a sigh, Hanbei coolly observed his guest's agitation.

"Well then… isn't there something… ?" Apart from the voice that disgorged itself from his mouth, Nobumori's agitated eyes remained entangled with the calm eyes of his host. Nobumori coughed uncontrollably, then asked, "Haven't you sent his head to Kanbei at Itami Castle?"

"It's as you say."

"It's as I say? That's a rather unusual answer. Have you deliberately disobeyed His lordship's command?"

"Don't be absurd."

"If that's so, why haven't you killed the boy yet?"

"He was strictly entrusted to me. I thought that I could do it at any time, without too much hurry."

"That's excessive leniency. There's a limit to this leisurely pace, you know. I do not recall having ever been so inept on a mission as I was on this one."

"There was never any fault in the way you carried out your mission. It's absolutely clear that I purposely delayed the matter because of my own thoughts on the subject."


"While I knew that it was a grave errand, I've been thoughtlessly preoccupied by this less…"

"Wouldn't it be sufficient if you sent a courier with a note?"

"No, he may be a hostage from another clan, but he's been entrusted to us for a number of years. The people around such a lovely child naturally feel sympathy toward him and would find it difficult to kill him. I'm concerned that if the worst happened and some indiscreet retainer sent someone else's head for His Lordship's inspection, I would have no excuse to offer Lord Nobunaga. So I think that I myself should go to behead him. Perhaps my condition will improve before long." As Hanbei spoke, he began coughing uncontrollably. He put a paper handkerchief over his mouth, but it seemed that he was not going to able to stop.

An attendant nearby moved behind him and began rubbing Hanbei's back. Nobumori could do nothing but keep quiet and wait until Hanbei settled down. But just sitting in front of a man who was trying to control his violent coughing fit and who was having his sick body massaged began to be painful in itself.

"Why don't you rest in your room?" For the first time Nobumori mumbled some­thing sympathetic, but the look on his face bore no sympathy at all. "At any rate, in the next few days there should be some action taken as a result of these words from His Lord­ship. I'm amazed at your negligence, but there's nothing else I can do after what I've said here now. I'll be sending a letter to Azuchi explaining the situation exactly as it is. No matter how sick you may be, any further delay will only provoke His Lordship's anger. It's tedious, but I'll definitely have to inform him about this!"

Ignoring the pained figure of Hanbei, who was still racked by coughing, Nobumori had his say, announced his leave, and departed. As he reached the veranda, he passed by a woman carrying a tray from which floated the thick smell of some medicinal decoction.

The woman hurriedly put down her tray and bowed to her guest. Nobumori in­spected her at length, from the white hands that touched the wooden-floored veranda to the back of her neck, and finally said, "It seems that I've met you before. Ah, yes, that's right. The time I was invited by Lord Hideyoshi to Nagahama. I remember that you were waiting upon him at that time."

"Yes. I was given leave to take care of my brother."

"Well then, you're Hanbei's younger sister?"

"Yes, my name is Oyu."

"You're Oyu," he muttered rudely. "You are pretty." Mumbling to himself, he stepped down on the stepping stone.

Oyu simply nodded as he left. She could hear her brother still coughing, and she seemed more concerned about the medicine growing cold than about what her guest's feelings might be. Just when she thought that he had left, however, Nobumori turned again and said, "Has there been any news recently from Lord Hideyoshi in Harima?"


"Your brother was purposely negligent with Lord Nobunaga's orders, but I'm sure that couldn't have been a result of Hideyoshi's instructions, could it? I fear that our lord may have some doubts about that. If Hideyoshi is incurring Lord Nobunaga's wrath, he may be in for a great deal of trouble. I'm going to say this once again: I think it would be a good thing if Kuroda Kanbei's son were executed immediately."

Looking up into the sky, Nobumori quickly walked away. Obscuring his retreating figure and the huge roof of the Nanzen Temple, specks of snow fell obliquely, turning everything white.

“My lady!" The coughing had suddenly stopped behind the sliding doors, and the agitated voice of the retainer could now be heard in its place. Her chest pounding, Oyu opened the doors and looked inside. Hanbei lay face down on the floor. The paper handkerchief that had been over his mouth was covered with bright red blood.

Monkey Marches West | Taiko | Characters and places