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Hanbei's Legacy

No one could have predicted that Bessho Nagaharu would hold out in Miki Castle for so long. The castle had been besieged for three long years, and it had been completely blockaded by Hideyoshi's troops for more than six months. What were its occupants eating? How had they managed to survive?

Hideyoshi's troops were amazed each time they observed the activity and heard the hearty voices of those inside the castle. Was some sort of miracle taking place? Sometimes they believed the enemy's survival was almost supernatural. The battle of endurance was being lost by the attacking troops. It seemed that no matter how they beat, struck, kicked, or choked the enemy, he was still moving.

The garrison of three thousand five hundred men had had their provisions cut off and their water routes blocked. They should have been on the brink of starvation in the middle of the First Month, but at the end of the month the castle still had not fallen. It was now the beginning of the Third Month.

Hideyoshi saw the weariness of his troops but forced himself to hide his concern. The scraggly beard on his chin and the hollowness of his eyes were clear symptoms of the anxiety and fatigue caused by the long siege.

I've miscalculated, Hideyoshi realized. I knew they would hold out, but I never thought it would be this long. He had learned the lesson that war is not simply a matter of numbers and logistical advantages.

The morale of the men inside the castle had actually strengthened; there was not even a hint that they might capitulate. Of course, there could have been no food. The besieged soldiers must have eaten their cows and horses, even tree roots and grass. All of the things that Hideyoshi had thought would decide the castle's fall were only strengthening the morale and unity of the defenders.

In the Fifth Month the rainy season began. This was a mountainous region of the western provinces, so, adding to the misery of the constant rain, the roads turned into waterfalls and the empty moats overflowed with muddy water. Now, as the men slipped in the mud while going up and down the mountain, the siegewhich had seemed at last to be having some effectwas once again turned into a stalemate by the power of nature.

Kuroda Kanbei, whose kneewhich had been injured during his escape from Itami Castlehad never completely healed, inspected the front lines from a litter. He would force a smile at the thought that he would probably be limping for the rest of his life.

When Hanbei witnessed his friend's efforts, he forgot about his own suffering and tackled his own arduous task. Hideyoshi had a strange field staff, indeed. Neither of his two chief generals, whom he valued like a pair of bright jewels, was in perfect health. One was chronically sick; the other had to direct the fighting from a litter.

But the considerable help these two men gave Hideyoshi went beyond their resourcefulness. Every time he looked at their tragic figures, he could not help but be moved to tears by sublime emotions. At this point his field staff was absolutely of one body and mind. It was only because of this that the morale of the troops did not waver. It had taken at least half a year, but now the resistance of Miki Castle was beginning to weaken. If the field staff of the attacking troops had not had this indestructible center, Miki Castle might never have fallen. Then the Mori fleet might have broken through the encircling troops and brought in provisions, or their troops might have crossed the mountains, combined with the soldiers in the castle, and crushed the attacking troops. And the name of Hideyoshi might have met its end right there. With this kind of spirit, there were times when even Hideyoshi felt outstripped by Kanbei's quick wit and resources, and, half in jest, would express his admiration by calling Kanbei "that damned cripple." But it was clear that in his heart he felt a deep respect for this man upon whom he relied so much.

The rainy season was long over, the intense heat of the summer had passed, and the coolness of fall had come in with the beginning of the Eighth Month. Hanbei's illness suddenly took a turn for the worse, and this time it seemed as though he would never be putting armor on his sick body again.

Ah, is heaven abandoning me, too, at last? Hideyoshi lamented. Hanbei is too young and talented to die. Can't fate give him more time?

He had shut himself in the hut where Hanbei lay, sitting with his sick friend day and night, but that evening, when he was called to other important affairs, Hanbei's condition appeared to worsen hourly. The enemy fortresses at Takano and Mount Hachiman were wrapped in the evening mist. As night approached gunfire echoed through the mountains.

It must be that damned cripple again! Hideyoshi thought. He shouldn't go that far inside enemy lines.

Hideyoshi worried about Kanbei, who had pressed in on the enemy but had not yet returned. Hurried footsteps approached and stopped at his side. When he looked around, someone was tearfully prostrating himself.

"Shojumaru?"

After Shojumaru had joined the camp at Mount Hirai, he had gone into battle on several occasions. In a short time he had been transformed into a stouthearted adult. About one week before this, when Hanbei's condition had seemed to be deteriorating quickly, Hideyoshi had ordered Shojumaru to watch Hanbei.

"I'm sure the patient would be more pleased with you at his bedside than someone else. I would like to be there taking care of him myself, but I'm afraid that if he worried about troubling me, his condition would worsen."

For Shojumaru, Hanbei was both teacher and surrogate father. Now he waited upon Hanbei day and night without taking off his own armor, putting all his energy into preparing the man's medicine and caring for his needs. This was the Shojumaru who had come running in and had tearfully prostrated himself on the ground. Intuitively, Hideyoshi felt as though he had been struck in the chest.

"Why are you crying, Shojumaru?" he scolded him.

"Please forgive me," Shojumaru said, wiping his eyes. "Lord Hanbei is almost too weak to speak; he may not last until midnight. If you can take time from the battle, could you come for a moment?"

"He's on the verge of dying?"

"I-I'm afraid so."

"Is that what the doctor says?"

"Yes. Lord Hanbei strictly ordered me not to tell you or anyone else in camp of his condition, but the doctor and Lord Hanbei's retainers said that his departure from this world is imminent and that it would be better if I told you."

Hideyoshi was already resigned. "Shojumaru, would you stay here for a short while in my place? I suspect your father will be withdrawing from the battlefield at Takano soon.

"My father's fighting at Takano?"

"He's directing everything from his litter as usual."

"Well then, could I go to Takano, lead the fighting in my father's place, and tell him to go to Lord Hanbei's bedside?"

"You've spoken well! Go, if you have that kind of courage."

"As long as Lord Hanbei is still breathing, my father will want to be with him. He won't say it, but I'm sure that Lord Hanbei wants to see my father, too." Shojumaru spoke gallantly and, grasping a spear that looked much too big for him, dashed off toward the foothills.

Hideyoshi walked off in the opposite direction, gradually lengthening his stride. Lamplight spilled from one of the huts. It was the one Takenaka Hanbei slept in, and just at that moment the moon began to shine faintly over the roof. The doctor Hideyoshi had sent was at the bedside, as were Hanbei's retainers. The hut was hardly more than a wooden fence, but white coverlets had been piled on the rush mats, and in one corner stood a folding screen.

'Hanbei, can you hear me? It's me, Hideyoshi. How do you feel?" He sat quietly at his friend's side, looking at his face on the pillow. Perhaps because of the darkness, Hanbeis face was as luminescent as a jewel. One could not help shedding tears, wondering that a man could become so thin. It was a heartrending sight for Hideyoshi; just looking at the man was painful.

"Doctor, how is he?"

The doctor could say nothing. His silent answer meant that it was only a matter of time, but Hideyoshi really wanted to hear that there might be some hope.

The sick man moved his hand slightiy. He seemed to have heard Hideyoshi's voice, and, barely opening his eyes, he tried to say something to one of his attendants, who replied, "His Lordship has been kind enough to come visit youto be at your bedside."

Hanbei nodded but seemed to be fretful about something. He appeared to be ordering the man to help him up.

"What do you think?" an attendant inquired, looking at the doctor. The doctor was hardly able to answer. Hideyoshi understood what Hanbei wanted.

"What? You want to sit up? Why not stay in bed?" he said, soothing him as though he were calming a child. Hanbei shook his head slightly and once again chided his attendants. He was unable to speak in a loud voice, but his desire could plainly be seen in his hollow eyes. They gently raised the upper half of the sick man's plank-thin body, but when they tried to help him sit up, Hanbei pushed them away. He bit his lip and gradually got out of bed. This act clearly require a huge effort on the part of a sick man who by now could hardly breathe.

Transfixed by what they were witnessing, Hideyoshi, the doctor, and Hanbei's retainers could only hold their breath and watch. Finally, when he had crawled a few paces from his bedding, Hanbei knelt properly on the reed matting. With the sharp points of his shoulders, his thin knees, and his sallow hands, Hanbei looked almost like a young girl. He closed his mouth tightly and appeared to be controlling his breath. Finally he bowed so low that it seemed he might break.

"My farewell to you is approaching this evening. Once again I must show my gratitude for the many years of your great benevolence." Then he paused for a moment. "Whether the leaves fall or bloom, live or die, when you reflect deeply on the matter, it would appear that the colors of autumn and spring fill the entire universe. I have felt that the world is an interesting place. My lord, I have been tied by karma to you and have received your kind treatment. When I look back, my only regret at parting is that I have been of no service to you at all."

There was only a thread of his voice left, but it smoothly left his lips. Everyone present adjusted his posture and sat quietly at this solemn miracle. Hideyoshi, especially, straightened his back, hung his head, and, with both hands on his lap, listened as though he could not bear to miss a single word. The lamp ready to go out will flare up brightly just before it dies. Hanbei's life now was like that, for one sublime moment. He continued to speak, desperately struggling to leave Hideyoshi his last words.

"All the events all the events and changes the world will go through hereafter I sympathize with truly. Japan is presently on the verge of a great change. I would like to see what will happen to the nation. This is what is in my heart, but my allotted span of life will not allow me to have my wish." His words gradually became more and more clear, and he appeared to be speaking with the last strength left to him. His body naturally gasped for air momentarily, but he controlled the heaving of his shoulders and held his breath to continue speaking.

"But my lord do you, yourself, not think that you were chosen to be born in a time like this? Looking carefully at you, I cannot see in you the ambition to become ruler of the nation." Here he paused for a moment. "Until now, this had been a strong point and part of your character. It's rude of me to bring it up, but when you were Lord Nobunaga's sandal bearer, you put your whole heart into the duties of a sandal bearer and when you had the status of a samurai, you put all of your capacities into carrying out the duties of a samurai. Never once did you have the wild fancy of looking up and trying to launch yourself higher. What I fear most now is thattrue to this mentalityyou willcomplete your duties in the western provinces, or totally satisfy your commission from Lord Nobunaga, or again, that you will simply subdue Miki Castle, and that except for the close attention you pay to these things, you will not think about current events or of ways of distinguishing yourself."

It was so quiet that it seemed as if no one else were in the room. Hideyoshi was listening so intently that it looked as if he could not lift his head or move.

"But the great capacity that a man needs to gain control over this kind of age is given by heaven. Rival warlords fight for hegemony, each of them bragging that no one but he will be able to bring a new dawn to the chaotic world and save the people from their distress. But Kenshin, who was such an excellent man, has gone on to his death; Shingen of Kai has passed away; the great Motonari of the western provinces left the world having advised his descendants to protect their inheritance by knowing their own capacities; and beyond that, both the Asai and the Asakura brought destruction upon themselves. Who is going to bring this problem to a conclusion? Who has the force of will to be able to create the culture of the next era and be accepted by the people? Such men are fewer than the fingers on one hand."

Hideyoshi suddenly lifted his head, and a beam of light seemed to come directly at him from Hanbei's sunken eyes. Hanbei was close to death, and even Hideyoshi could not be sure of his own life span, but for a moment their eyes wrestled in silence.

"I know that in your heart you are probably confused by the things I am saying, because you now serve Lord Nobunaga. I can understand your feelings. But Providence has clearly set him on the stage to perform a difficult mission. Neither you nor Lord Ieyasu has the kind of spirit that is required to break through the present situation, nor the faith to rise above all the many difficulties that have presented themselves until now. Who, other than Lord Nobunaga, would have been capable of leading the country thus far through the chaos of the age? But that is still not to say that the world has been renewed by his actions. Just by subjugating the western provinces, attacking Kyushu, and pacifying Shikoku, the nation will not necessarily be pacified, the four classes of people will not live peace and harmony, a new culture will not be established, nor will the cornerstone of prosperity for succeeding generations be laid."

Hanbei seemed to have reflected on these things deeply, drawing insights from wisdom of the ancient Chinese classics. He had compared the transitions of modern times with historical events and had analyzed the complex undercurrents of the present situation.

During the years he had served on Hideyoshi's field staff, his mind had been forming a general view of Japan's development. His conclusions he kept secret. Was Hideyoshi the next man"? Even among his retainers, who were close to him day and night, and who saw him fighting periodically with his wife, rejoicing over some trivial matter, looking dispirited, and talking foolishlyor who compared him in terms of appearance with the lords of other clans and did not find him superior at allthere did not seem to be one out often who considered their lord to have superior natural talents. But Hanbei did not regret having served at this man's side or having spent half his life for his sake, rather, he rejoiced greatly that heaven had bound him to such a lord, and he felt that life had been absolutely worth living right up to the point of his death.

If this lord carries out the role that I believe he will, and accomplishes the great task of the future, Hanbei thought, my life will not have been in vain. My own ideals will most likely be carried out in the world in some form with his spirit and future. People may say that I died young, but I will have died well.

"Beyond that," he said, "there is really nothing more to say. Please, my lord, take good care of yourself. Believe that you yourself are irreplaceable, and strive even harder after I am gone." As Hanbei finished speaking, his chest crumpled like a piece of rotten wood. There was no longer any strength in the thin hands that should have supported him. His face fell flat against the floor; a pool of blood spread over the matting like the blooming of a red peony.

Hideyoshi jumped forward and held Hanbei's head, and the blood that was now gushing out stained his lap and chest.

"Hanbei! Hanbei! Are you leaving me alone? Are you going off by yourself? What am I going to do on the battlefield without you from now on?" he cried, weeping copiously, without regard for either his appearance or his reputation.

Hanbei's white face now lay limply, his head resting on Hideyoshi's lap. "No, from now on you won't have to worry about anything."

Those who are born the morning, die before the evening; and those who are born in the evening are dead before the dawn. Such facts do not necessarily bespeak the Buddhist view of impermanence, so one might wonder why it was specifically Hanbei's death that sent Hideyoshi into the depths of despair. He was, after all, on a battlefield, where every day men fell like autumn leaves from the branches. But the extent of his grief was such that even the people who were grieving with him were dumbfounded, and when he finally came to himselflike a child after a tantrumhe softly lifted Hanbei's cold body from his lap and, unaided, placed it on top of the white bedding, whispering to it as though Hanbei were still alive.

"Even if you had lived two or three times the normal life span, you had such great almost unbearableideas that your hopes might still have been only half fulfilled. You did not want to die. If it had been me, I wouldn't have wanted to die either. Right, Hanbei? How many things you must have regretted leaving undone. Ah, when your kind genius is born into this world, and less than a hundredth of your thoughts are brought to fruition, it's natural that you wouldn't want to die."

How much love he had for the man! Over and over he complained to Hanbei's corpse. He did not fold his hands and recite a prayer, but his pleas to the dead man were endless.

Kanbei, who had been informed of Hanbei's condition by his son, had just arrived.

"Am I too late?" Kanbei asked anxiously, limping in as fast as he could. There was

Hideyoshi, sitting with red eyes at the bedside, and there lay the cold, lifeless body of Hanbei. Kanbei sat down with a heavy groan, as though both his body and his spirit had been crushed. Kanbei and Hideyoshi sat quiedy, without speaking, looking at Hanbeis body.

The room was as dark as a cave, but no lamp was lit. The white bedding beneath the corpse looked like snow at the bottom of a ravine.

"Kanbei," Hideyoshi finally said, sounding as though grief were pouring from his entire body, "it's pitiful. I had thought it would be difficult, but"

Kanbei could not say much in response. He seemed to be in a daze, too. "Ah, I just don't understand it. He was fine six months ago. And now this." After a pause, he continued as though he had suddenly come to himself. "Well, come on. Are all of you just going to sit here crying? Someone light a lamp. We should clean his body, sweep the room, and lay him out in state. Everything must be done for a proper battlefield funeral.

While Kanbei gave orders, Hideyoshi disappeared. In the flickering light of the lamps, as people began to work stiffly, someone discovered a letter left that Hanbei had left beneath his pillow. It was addressed to Kanbei, and had been written two days before.

They buried Hanbei on Mount Hirai, the autumn wind blowing sadly through the mourning flags.

Kanbei showed Hanbei's last letter to Hideyoshi. It contained nothing about himself; he had written about Hideyoshi, and about the plans he had had in mind for future operations. In part it read:

Even if my body should die and turn to white bones beneath the earth, if my lord will not forget my sincerity and will recall me in his heart even accidentally, my soul will breathe into my lord's present existence and never fail to serve him even from the grave.

Considering his service to have been insufficient but not begrudging his early death, Hanbei had waited for that death in the full belief that he would serve his lord even after he had become nothing but whitened bones. Now, when Hideyoshi considered Hanbeis inmost feelings, he could not help but cry. No matter how hard he tried to control his tears, he could not stop them.

Kanbei finally spoke sternly. "My lord, I don't think you should go on grieving like this. Please read the rest of the letter, and think carefully. Lord Hanbei has written down a plan to take Miki Castle."

Kanbei had always been completely devoted to Hideyoshi, but in the present situation, his voice was showing a little impatience at Hideyoshi's unreserved demonstration of the emotional side of his character.

In his letter Hanbei had predicted that Miki Castle would fall within one hundreddays. But he also cautioned that a victory should not be accomplished simply by making a frontal attack and injuring their own soldiers, and he had written down a final plan:

In Miki Castle there is no man with more discrimination than General Goto Motokuni. In my own view, he is not the kind of soldier who does not understand the country's situation and demonstrates his toughness by going blindly into a battle. Before this campaign, I sat and talked with him a number of times at Himeji Castle, so you might say there is a slight friendship between us. I have written a letter to him, urging him to explain the advantages and disadvantages of the present situation to his lord, Bessho Nagaharu. If Lord Nagaharu understands everything that Goto says, he should be enlightened enough to surrender the castle and sue for peace. But to put this plan into operation, it is essential to gauge the right psychological moment. The best time of all, I think, would be late fall, when the earth is covered with dead leaves, the moon is solitary and cold in the sky, and in their hearts, the soldiers yearn for their fathers, mothers, sisters, and brothers, and have feelings of nostalgia in spite of themselves. The soldiers in the castle are already pressed by starvation, and when they feel that winter is coming, they're sure to realize that death is near and to feel all the more full of self-pity and misery. To make a strong attack at that time will do nothing more than give them a good place to die and provide them with traveling companions for their climb over the mountain of death. But if you were to postpone the attack for a while at this point and, after giving them the chance to think coolly, send a letter explaining the matter to Lord Nagaharu and his retainers, I have no doubt that you will see a conclusion within the year.

Kanbei saw that Hideyoshi had doubts about whether Hanbei's plan could succeed, and now he added a point of his own.

"The fact is that Hanbei spoke about this plan two or three times when he was alive, but it was put off because the time was still not ripe. If I may have my lord's permission, I will go at any time as an envoy and meet Goto in Miki Castle."

"No, wait," Hideyoshi said, shaking his head. "Wasn't it just last spring that we used this same plan, approaching one of the generals in the castle through the connections of Asano Yahei's relatives? There was no answer. We found out later that when our man advised Bessho Nagaharu to capitulate, the generals and soldiers got angry and cut him to pieces. The plan that Hanbei has left us sounds a little like that one, doesn't it? In fact, it's the same thing, I believe. If it's handled badly, we'll only let them know our weakness, and nothing will be gained."

"No, I think that is why Hanbei emphasized the importance of judging the correct moment. And I suspect that that moment is now."

"You think it's the right time?"

"I believe it absolutely." Just then, they heard voices outside the enclosure. Along with the voices of the generals and soldiers they were accustomed to, they could also hear a woman's voice. It was that of Hanbei's sister, Oyu. As soon as she had been informed that her brother was in a critical condition, she had left Kyoto, accompanied by only a few attendants. With the thought of seeing his face just once more while he was still in this world, she had rushed anxiously to Mount Hirai, but as she came closer to the front lines, the road had become more difficult. In the end, she was too late.

To Hideyoshi, the woman now bowing before him had completely changed. He gazed her traveling outfit and emaciated face and then, as he started to speak, Kanbei and the pages deliberately went outside to leave them alone. Oyu could only shed tears at first, and for a long time could not look up at Hideyoshi. Throughout his absence during the long campaign she had longed to see him, but now that she was in front of him, she could hardly go to his side.

"You have heard that Hanbei is dead?"

Yes.

"You must be resigned to it. There was nothing we could do."

Oyu's heart collapsed like melting snow, and her body was convulsed with sobs.

"Stop crying; this is unbecoming." Hideyoshi lost his composure, hardly knowing what to do. Even though there was no one else present, the attendants were immediately outside the enclosure, and he felt constrained by the thought of what they might hear.

"Let's go to Hanbei's grave together," Hideyoshi said, and he led Oyu along the mountain path behind the camp to the top of a small hill.

A chilly late-autumn wind moaned through the branches of a solitary pine. Beneath it was a mound of fresh earth, upon which a single stone had been placed as a grave marker. In former times, during leisure hours in the long siege, a reed mat had been placed at the foot of this pine, and Kanbei, Hanbei, and Hideyoshi had sat together, talking over the past and present while looking at the moon.

Oyu parted the bushes, looking for some flowers to put on the grave. Then she faced the mound of earth and bowed beside Hideyoshi. Her tears no longer fell. Here at the top of the mountain, the grasses and trees of late autumn demonstrated that such a condition was a natural principle of the universe. Autumn passes into winter, winter passes into springin nature there is neither grief nor tears.

"My lord, I have a request, and I'd like to ask it in front of my brother's grave."

"Yes?"

"Perhaps you understand in your heart."

"I do understand."

"I would like you to let me go. If you'll grant me that, I know my brother will be relieved, even under the earth."

"Hanbei died saying that his spirit would serve me even from the grave. How can turn my back on something that he worried about when he was alive? You should do what your heart tells you."

"Thank you. With your permission, I will do my best to honor his dying wish."

"Where will you go?"

"To a temple in some remote village." Once again she shed tears.

* * *

Granted a dismissal by Hideyoshi, Oyu received a lock of her brother's hair and his clothes. It was inappropriate for a woman to be in a military camp for a long time, and the next day Oyu went immediately to Hideyoshi and told him she had made her travel preparations.

I'm here to say good-bye. Please, please take care of yourself," she told him.

Won't you stay two or three more days in camp?" Hideyoshi asked. For the next few days Oyu stayed alone in an isolated hut, praying for her brothers soul. The days passed without any word from Hideyoshi. Frost had descended on the mountains. Each time the early-winter rains came down, the leaves fell from the trees. Then, on the first night that the moon appeared clearly, a page came to Oyu and said, His Lordship would like to see you. He has asked that you make preparations to leave this evening and that you go up now to Lord Hanbei's grave on the mountain."

Oyu had few preparations to make for the trip. She set off for her brother's grave with Kumataro and two other attendants. The trees had lost their leaves and the grass had withered, and the mountain had a desolate appearance. The ground looked white in the moonlight, as if there had been a frost.

One of the half-dozen retainers in attendance on Hideyoshi announced Oyu's arrival.

"Thank you for coming, Oyu," Hideyoshi began gently. "I've been so busy with military matters since we last met that I haven't been able to visit you. It's become so cold lately, you must be lonely."

"I have resigned myself to spending the rest of my life in an isolated village, so I won't be lonely."

"I hope that you'll pray for Hanbei's soul. Wherever you choose to live, I suspect we'll meet again." He turned to Hanbei's grave under the pine tree. "Oyu, I have something prepared for you over there. I doubt that I'll ever be able to hear the lovely sound of your koto again, after tonight. A long time ago, you were with Hanbei at the siege of the castle at Choteiken in Mino. You played the koto and softened the hearts of soldiers who had become like demons, and they finally surrendered. If you would play now, it would be an offering to Hanbei's soul, I think, as well as becoming a remembrance for me. Also, if the notes were carried by the wind to the castle, they might shock the enemy soldiers into thinking of their own humanity and make them aware that their deaths now would be meaningless. That would be a great achievement, and even Hanbei would rejoice."

He led her over to the pine tree, where a koto had been placed on top of a reed mat.

Having resisted a siege of three years with all their courage and integrity, the warriors the western provinces, who looked down on other men as being frivolous and vain, were now reduced to shadows of their former selves.

"I don't care if I die fighting today or tomorrow, I just don't want to die of starvation," one of the defenders said.

They had fallen into such an extremity that dying in battle was their last remaining hope. The defenders still looked like men, but they were now reduced to sucking the bones of their own dead horses and eating field mice, tree bark, and roots, and they anticipated having to boil the tatami mats and eating the clay on the walls in the coming winter. As they consoled each other, sunken eye to sunken eye, they still had enough spirit to be able to plan on getting through the winter as best as they could. Indeed, even in small skirmishes, when the enemy drew near, they could suddenly forget their hunger and fatigue and go out to fight.

For more than half a month, however, the attacking troops had not approached the castle, and this neglect was more bitter to the defending troops than any desperate death. When the sun went down, the entire castle was sunk into a darkness so deep it might just as well have fallen to the bottom of a swamp. Not one lamp was lit. All of the fish oil and rapeseed oil had been consumed as food. Many of the small shrikes and sparrows that had flocked morning and night to the trees in the grounds had been caught and eaten, and recently the ones that remained had stopped coming to the castle, knowing, perhaps, what would be in store for them. The men had eaten so many crows that now they were rarely even able to catch one. In the midst of the darkness, the eyes of the sentries would quicken at the sound of something like a weasel scampering by. Instinctively, their gastric juices would begin to flow, and they would look at each other and grimace. "My stomach feels like it's being wrung out like a damp cloth."

The moon that evening was beautiful, but the soldiers only wished it could be eaten. The dead leaves fell in profusion on the roofs of the fortress and around the castle gate. A soldier munched greedily on them.

"Taste good? someone asked.

"Better than straw," he answered, and picked up another one. Suddenly looking queasy, he coughed several times and vomited the leaves he had just eaten.

"General Goto!" someone suddenly announced, and everyone stood to attention. Goto Motokuni, chief retainer of the Bessho clan, walked toward the soldiers from the darkened keep.

"Anything to report?" Goto asked.

"Nothing, sir."

"Really?" Goto showed them an arrow. "Sometime this evening, this arrow was shot into the castle by the enemy. A letter was tied to it, asking me to meet with one of Lord Hideyoshi's generals, Kuroda Kanbei, here tonight."

"Kanbei is coming here tonight! A man who betrayed his lord for the Oda. He's not fit to be a samurai. When he shows up, we'll torture him to death."

"He's Lord Hideyoshi's envoy, and it would not be right to kill someone whose arrival has been announced beforehand. It's an agreement among warriors that one does not kill messengers."

"That would be all right even for an enemy general if it were someone else. But with Kanbei, I feel like I wouldn't be content even eating the meat off his bones."

"Don't let the enemy see what's in your heart. Laugh when you greet him."

Just as Goto gazed out into the darkness, he and the men seemed to hear the intermittent sounds of a distant koto. At that moment Miki Castle became enveloped in a strange hush. In a night the color of India ink, it seemed as though no one could even breathe while the falling leaves swirled and danced formlessly in an uncanny sky.

"A koto? one of the soldiers said, looking up into the void.

They listened almost in ecstasy to the nostalgic sound. The men in the watchtower, in the guardroom, and in every section of the fortress were caught by the same thoughts. Through storms of arrows, gunfire, and war criesfrom dawn until dusk, and from dusk again until dawnthe men who had been in this castle for three years cut off from the outside world had steadfastly dug themselves in, without yielding or withdrawing. Now the sound of the koto suddenly called up various thoughts in their minds.

My ancestral home,

Will you wait

For a man who knows not

If tonight will be

His last?

This was the death poem that Kikuchi Taketoki, Emperor Godaigo's loyal general, had sent to his wife when he was surrounded by a rebel army.

As the men considered their own situations, there were some who unconsciously recited the poem to themselves. Surely there were soldiers, far away from their homes, who thought of their mothers, children, and brothers and sisters of whom they had had no news. Even the soldiers who had nothing to go back to did not have hearts made of stone, and were swayed by the feelings evoked by the koto. No one could stop his tears.

In his heart, Goto felt just the same as his men, but when he saw the expressions on the faces of the soldiers around him, he quickly pulled himself together. He spoke to his men with intentional cheer. "What? Sounds of the koto are coming from the enemy imp? What fools! Why would they have a koto? That shows how soft the enemy warriors really are. They've probably gotten tired of the long campaign, have grabbed some singing girl from a village, and are trying to amuse themselves. For minds to be so disheveled is unpardonable. The steel and rock-hard souls of true warriors are not so weak!

As he spoke, each man awoke from his reverie.

"Instead of listening to such foolery, let each man guard his own post. These castles are just like a dike that holds back a flood of dirty water. The dike is meandering and long, but if one little bit of it crumbles, the entire structure will collapse. Each of you should stand, and linked breast to breast, not move even if you die. As for Miki Castle, if it were said that someone abandoned his post and the entire castle collapsed as a result, his ancestors would weep from beneath the earth and his descendants would bear the shame of the province and be nothing more than laughing-stocks."

Goto was urging his men on like this when he saw two or three soldiers running up to the castle. They quickly informed him that the enemy general whose visit had been announced earlier had come as far as the palisade at the bottom of the slope.

Kanbei arrived, carried in a litter. The litter was a light structure made of wood, straw, and bamboo. There was no roof, and the sides were low. He had learned to brandish his long sword from the litter when he fought with the enemy in battle. But tonight he had come as an envoy of peace.

Over a light yellow robe, Kanbei wore armor threaded with pale green, and a coat of silver embroidery on a white background. Luckily he was a small man, about five feet tall and lighter than average, so the men who carried him were not uncomfortable, and he himself did not feel cramped.

Footsteps could soon be heard inside the palisade gate. A number of soldiers from the castle had run back down the slope.

"Envoy, you may pass through!" they announced. At the same time Kanbei heard this stern shout, the palisade gate before him opened. In the darkness he thought that he could see a hundred or more soldiers jostling together. Each time the wave of men pitched and rolled, the glint of their spears pierced his eyes.

"I'm sorry to trouble you," Kanbei said to the man who had shouted at him. "I am lame, so I'll be coming through in a litter. Please excuse my lack of manners." With this apology, he turned and spoke to his son, Shojumaru, the only attendant who had accompanied him, and ordered, "Walk in front of me."

"Yes, sir." Edging around his father's litter, Shojumaru walked straight through the enemies' spears.

The four soldiers shouldering the litter followed through the palisade gate behind Shojumaru. When they saw how composed the thirteen-year-old boy and the lame warrior looked as they walked into their camp, the bloodthirsty and ravenous soldiers could hardly feel any anger, even though they were looking at the enemy. They could now understand that the enemy was fighting this battle with a determination and perseverance equal to their own and so could sympathize with the envoys as warriors. Strangely, they even felt a sort of compassion for them.

After passing through the palisade and the castle gate, Kanbei and his son quickly came to the main entrance, where Goto and his picked troops were waiting with solemn indifference.

I can see how this castle has been defended by these men, Kanbei thought as he approached the gate. The castle won't fall even though there's no food. They'll hold out, no matter what the cost. He could see that the courage of the men had not waned in the least, and he felt the weight of his own responsibility even more. This feeling immediately became transformed into a deep concern for the grave situation that Hideyoshi now faced. Kanbei silently renewed his pledge in his own heart. Somehow, he thought, this mission I've been entrusted with has got to succeed.

Goto and his men were surprised by the envoy's demeanor. Here was the general of the attacking troops, but, instead of looking at them with arrogance, he had come accompanied by only a charming young man. Not only that, but when this Kanbei greeted Goto, he hurriedly had his litter lowered to the ground and, standing on his legs, greeted him with a smile.

"General Goto, I am Kuroda Kanbei, and I am here as Lord Hideyoshi's envoy. I'm certainly obliged that everyone has come out to meet me."

Kanbei was completely unaffected. As an envoy from the enemy, he had made an exceptionally favorable impression. This was probably because he had approached them from his heart, disregarding concern for victory or defeat, and had acted with the custom and understanding that both he and his enemy were samurai. This, however, was not reason enough for the enemy to accept the point of his mission: to persuade them to capitulate. Kanbei talked with Goto in a room in the lightless castle for an hour or so and then rose from his seat, saying, "Well then, I'll wait for your answer."

Ill give you one after conferring with Lord Nagaharu and the other generals," Goto said, also standing up. Thus the pattern of the interview that night indicated that the negotiations were to be successful beyond Kanbei's and Hideyoshi's expectationsbut five days passed, then seven, then ten, and still there was no sign of an answer from the castle. The Twelfth Month came and went, and the opposing armies greeted the third New Year of the siege. In Hideyoshi's camp, the men at least had some rice cakes to eat and a little sake to drink, but they could hardly forget that the men in the castle, although they were the enemy, had nothing to eat and were barely holding on to their fragile lives. From the time of Kanbei's mission at the end of the Eleventh Month, Miki Castle had truly sunk into desolation and silence. It was understood that the soldiers lacked even bullets to shoot at the attackers. Hideyoshi, however, still refrained from an all-out offensive, saying, "Perhaps the castle will not hold out much longer."

If, then, the siege was simply an endurance contest, Hideyoshi's present position was hardly difficult or unfavorable. But the fact was that neither the camp at Mount Hirai nor Hideyoshi's position were matters of his own private battle. He was essentially striking against one link in the enemy alliance made up of those who opposed Nobunaga's supremacy; and he was nothing more than one of the limbs of Nobunaga's body that was trying to break open a hole to break through the encircling chain of his enemies. Little by little, therefore, Nobunaga had started to wonder about the lack of action in the protracted western campaign.

And Hideyoshi's enemies on Nobunaga's field staff were wondering about his choice of commander, saying that Hideyoshi's responsibilities had been too heavy for him from the start.

His rivals cited as proof their feelings that, either Hideyoshi was wasting military expenses in a bid for popularity among the local people, or he was not very strict about the prohibition of sake in camp because he was afraid of the soldiers' antipathy. But whatever his rivals wished to question, it was easy to see that, one by one, all the trifling matters that were not worth reaching Nobunaga's ears were heard in Azuchi and were considered material for slander. But Hideyoshi never paid much attention to the talk. Certainly he was a human being and had normal feelings like everyone else, and it wasn't that he didn't notice such things; he simply didn't worry about them.

"Trivial matters are nothing but that," he said. "Whenever they're investigated, they'll be cleared up." The only thing that did make him unhappy was the thought that with every passing day, the anti-Nobunaga coalition was getting stronger: the powerful Mori clan was building up its defenses, making plans with the Honganji, calling on the faraway Takeda and Hojo in the east, and inciting the clans of the Japan Sea coast. How strong these forces really were could be understood by observing the fact that Araki Murashige's castle in Itami, which the central army was presently besieging, had still not fallen.

What Murashige was depending on, and what the Bessho clan was stubbornly holding on to, was not only their own strength and their own castle walls. Soon the Mori army will come to our aid! Nobunaga will be defeated soon! That was it. Generally, the worst state of affairs was not in the enemy Nobunaga faced directly but in the enemy waiting in the shadows.

The two ancient forces of the Honganji and the Mori were quite correctly Nobunaga's enemies, but it was Araki Murashige at Itami and Bessho Nagaharu, at Miki Castle, who were grappling directly with Nobunaga's ambition.

That evening Hideyoshi suddenly decided to have a bonfire lit, and was warding off the night cold, when he turned to see the carefree young pages drawing up close to the fire. They were half naked even in the cold of the First Month, and were making a noise over something that seemed to be amusing them.

"Sakichi! Shojumaru! What in the world are you two in an uproar about?" Hideyoshi asked, almost envious of their lightheartedness.

"Nothing at all," answered Shojumaru, who had recently become a page, and he hurriedly dressed and adjusted his armor.

"My lord," Ishida Sakichi interjected. "Shojumaru's embarrassed to talk to you about it because it's disgusting. But I'm going to speak up, because if we don't tell you, yc might get suspicious."

"All right. What is this disgusting thing?"

"We've been picking lice off each other."

"Lice?"

"Yes. At first someone found one crawling on my collar, then Toranosuke found one on Sengoku's sleeve. Finally, everybody was saying that everyone else was infested, and in the middle of it all, when we came here to warm ourselves by the fire, we found lice crawling all over everyone's armor. Now they've started to itch, so we're going to massacre the entire enemy army. We're going to purge our underwear just like the burning of Mount Hiei!"

"Is that so?" Hideyoshi laughed. "I guess the lice are also worn out from being besieged in this long campaign."

"But our situation is different from that of Miki Castle. The lice have plenty of provisions, so if we don't burn them out, they'll never give up."

"That's enough. I'm beginning to itch, too."

"You haven't taken a bath for over ten days, have you, my lord? I'm sure the 'enemy must be holding out all over you in swarms!"

"That's enough, Sakichi!" To the delight of the pages, Hideyoshi rushed over and shook his body at them as further proof that the lice were not swarming over them alone. They laughed and danced around.

Just then a soldier peeked in from outside the camp enclosure at the happy, laughing voices and the billowing warm smoke.

"Is Shojumaru here?"

"Yes, I'm here," Shojumaru said. The soldier was one of his father's retainers.

"If you're not busy with some errand, your father would like to see you."

Shojumaru asked for Hideyoshi's permission. Since this request was not ordinarily made, Hideyoshi looked surprised, but quickly gave his assent. Shojumaru ran off, accompanied by his father's retainer. Fires were burning at all of the small encampments, and every one of the units was in a cheerful mood. They had already run out of rice cakes and sake, but some of the New Year's spirit remained. This evening marked the fifteenth day of the First Month. Shojumaru's father was not in camp. Despite the cold, he was sitting on a camp stool that had been placed at the crest of a hill far from the makeshift barracks.

There was no shelter from the wind, and it stung the flesh and almost froze the blood. But Kanbei stared out intently into the dark expanse, as though he were a wooden statue of a warrior.

"Father, it's me."

Kanbei moved slightly as Shojumaru stepped to his side and knelt.

Did you receive your lord's permission to come?"

"Yes, and I came right over."

"Well then, sit on my camp stool for just a little."

"Yes, sir."

"Look at Miki Castle. The stars are not out, and there's not a single lamp lit in the castle, so you probably can't see a thing. But the castle will appear dimly out of that void as your eyes get accustomed to the darkness."

"Is that what you wanted me for, sir?"

"Yes," Kanbei said, as he yielded the camp stool to his son. "For the last two or three days I've been watching the castle, and somehow I get the feeling that there is movement going on inside. We haven't seen a bit of smoke for half a year, but some is rising now, and perhaps that's evidence that the grove that envelops the castleand the only thing that screens it from the outsideis being cut down and used for firewood. If you listen very carefully late at night, it seems that you can hear voices, but it's difficult to say whether they are crying or laughing. Whichever it is, the fact is that something unusual has happened inside the castle over the New Year."

"Do you really think so?"

"There's nothing that has actually appeared in form, and if I made a mistake and talked about it carelessly, it might cause our men to become tense for no reason. That could be a serious mistake on my part and create an unguarded moment the enemy could take advantage of. No, it's simply that I sat here on this camp stool looking at the castle last night and the night before, feeling that something was going on. Not just looking with my eyes but with my mind's eye."

"This is a difficult watch."

"Yes, it is difficult, but you could also say that it's easy. All you have to do is calm your mind and get rid of delusion. That's why I can't call any of the other soldiers. I want you to sit here instead of me for just a little while."

"I understand."

"Don't doze off. You're right in the middle of a chilly wind, but once you get used to it, you'll get sleepy."

"Ill be all right."

"One other thing. Inform the other generals as soon as you get even a glimpse of something like fire in the castle. And if you see soldiers leaving the castle from any point, light the fuse of the signal flare and then run to His Lordship."

"Yes, sir."

Shojumaru nodded as he looked calmly at the flare that had been planted in the ground in front of him. It was a natural battlefield situation, but his father did not once ask him if the task was difficult or painful, nor did he ever try to soothe the boy. Shojumaru understood quite well, however, that his father was always teaching him the common sense of military science, according to the event or time. He could feel an inward warmth, even in his father's gravity, and considered himself to be extremely lucky.

Kanbei picked up his staff and limped off toward the barracks. But instead of entering the camp, he seemed to be continuing on alone down the mountain, and his attendants asked nervously where he was going.

"To the foothills," Kanbei answered simply, and even though he was supporting

himself with the staff, he began to hop down the mountain path almost with a lightness in his step. The men who had been accompanying him, Mori Tahei and Kuriyama Zensuke, bounded down the mountain after him.

"My lord!" Mori called. "Please wait!"

Kanbei stood,folding his staff for a moment, and looked back toward them. "It's you two?"

"I'm surprised how fast you're going," Mori said, panting. "With that injured leg, Im afraid you'll get hurt."

"I've gotten used to the limp," Kanbei laughed. "I'll only fall down if I think about it when I walk. Recently I've been able to get around fairly naturally. But I don't want to show off."

"Could you do that in the middle of a battle?"

"I think the litter is best on the battlefield. Even in close fighting, I'm free to hold the sword with both hands or to grab the spear from the enemy and even to thrust it back at him. The only thing I can't do as I am is to run back and forth. When I'm up on top of the litter and see the surging enemy troops, I'm filled with an irresistible feeling. I feel like the enemy's going to retreat just at the sound of my voice."

"Ah, but it's dangerous now. There's still snow in the shaded areas of the steep cliff roads around here, and you're liable to slip in the wash from the melting snow."

"There's a mountain stream right below here, isn't there?"

"Shall I carry you across?" Mori offered his back.

Kanbei was carried piggyback across the stream. Where were they going? The two retainers still had no idea. A few hours before, they had seen a warrior come down from the palisade at the foot of the mountain and hand Kanbei something that looked like a letter, and soon thereafter, they had been called abruptly to accompany Kanbei to the foothills, but they had heard nothing more.

When they had walked a good distance, Kuriyama broached the subject. "My lord did the commander at the post in the foothills invite you this evening?"

"What? Did you think we'd been called out for a meal?" Kanbei chuckled. "How long do you think the New Year lasts? Even Lord Hideyoshi's tea ceremonies are over."

"Well then, where are we going?"

"To the palisade at the Miki River."

"The palisade near the river? That's a dangerous place!"

"Of course it's dangerous. But the enemy considers it dangerous, too. It's right where the two camps meet."

"Well, shouldn't we bring more men?"

"No, no. The enemy isn't bringing a big crowd either. I think there will be only one attendant and a child."

"A child?"

"Right."

"I don't understand."

"Well, just come along quietly. It's not that I can't tell you, but it's better to keep it a secret for the time being. After the castle falls, I will inform Lord Hideyoshi about it, too, I think."

"The castle is going to fall?"

"What are we going to do if it doesn't? First of all, the castle is probably going to fall in the next two or three days. It might even happen tomorrow."

"Tomorrow!" The two retainers stared at Kanbei. His face shone dimly white with the shimmering of the clear water. The dry reeds rustled in the shallows. Mori and Kuriyama stopped in fear. They could see a figure standing among the reeds on the far bank.

"Who is it?" Their next surprise was different from their first. The man appeared to be an important enemy general, but his only attendant was carrying a young child on his back. There was no indication the three of them had come with a hostile intent. They simply seemed to be waiting quietly for Kanbei's party to approach.

"Wait here," Kanbei ordered.

Obeying their lord's orders, the two retainers watched him closely as he walked away.

As Kanbei approached, the enemy standing in the reeds also stepped forward a pace or two. As soon as they could see each other clearly, they exchanged greetings as though they were old friends. If a secret meeting between enemies in such a place had been witessed by others, a conspiracy would have been suspected immediately; but the two seemed completely indifferent to such concerns.

"The child whom I shamelessly requested you to aid is on the back of that man over there. When the castle falls and I meet my end tomorrow on the battlefield, I hope you won't laugh at the passion of a father's love. He's still so innocent and naive." This was the enemy general, the commander of Miki Castle, Goto Motokuni. He and Kanbei spoke now on familiar terms, for it had only been in the late fall of the previous year that Kanbei had gone to the castle as Hideyoshi's envoy, counseling capitulation. At that time they had spoken on very friendly terms.

"You brought him along, after all? I want to meet him. Have him brought here."

As Kanbei beckoned gently, Goto's retainer stepped out hesitantly from behind his master, loosened the cords that had strapped the child to his back, and let him down.

"How old is he?"

"Just seven." The retainer must have been waiting upon the child as a guardian for some time; he answered Kanbei while wiping tears from his eyes, bowed once, and retreated again.

"His name?" Kanbei asked, and this time the boy's father answered.

"He's called Iwanosuke. His mother has already passed away and his father will too, soon. Lord Kanbei, I entreat you to look after the child's future."

"Don't worry. I am also a father. I understand your feelings very well, and will absolutely see to it that he is brought up under my own hand. After he becomes an adult, the Goto family name will not die out."

"Then I can die tomorrow morning with no regrets." Goto knelt down and held his son to the breast of his armor. "Listen well to what your father is saying now. You're already seven years old. The child of a samurai never cries. Your coming-of-age ceremony still far away, and you're at an age when you would like to have your mother's love and be at your father's side. But now the world is full of battles like this one. We can't help it that you're being separated from me, and it's natural that I should die with my lord. But you are not really so unfortunate. You've been lucky enough to be with me until this evening, and you should give great thanks to the gods of heaven and earth for that good luck. All right? So from tonight on, you'll be by the side of that man right there, Kuro Kanbei. He'll be your master and the parent who brings you up, so serve him well. Do you understand?"

As his father parted his head and spoke to him, Iwanosuke silently nodded again and again while tears rolled down his cheeks. Miki Castle's hours were now numbered. The several thousand people in the castle had quite naturally sworn to perish with their lord and were resolved to die bravely. Goto's will was adamantine, and he did not waver in the least now. But he did have a young son and could not bear to see an innocent child die. Iwanosuke was still much too young to carry the weight of having been born a samurai.

In the days preceding this meeting, Goto had sent a letter to Kanbei, whomalthough an enemyhe viewed as a reliable man. Goto had opened his heart to Kanbei, asking him to bring up his son.

As he lectured his little son, he knew this was the end, and was unable to check an unguarded tear. Finally he stood up and strongly ordered him off in Kanbei's direction almost as if he were thrusting the pitiful thing away.

"Iwanosuke, you too should request Lord Kanbei's favor."

"Put your mind completely at ease," Kanbei reassured the man as he took the childs hand. He ordered one of his retainers to take the child back to camp.

Now, for the first time that evening, Kanbei's retainers understood their master's intentions. Mori hoisted Iwanosuke onto his back and set off with Kuriyama at his side.

"Well then," Kanbei said.

"Yes, this is good-bye," replied Goto.

As they spoke, it was difficult to part. Kanbei did his best to harden his heart and leave quickly, but even though he thought it would be the kindest thing to do, he hesitated.

Finally Goto said with a smile. "Lord Kanbei, when I meet you on the battlefield tomorrow, if we're both pinned down by our personal feelings and the edge is taken off our spears, we'll be disgraced to the end of time. If the worst should happen, I'm prepared take your head. Don't you be remiss either!" He blurted out his words like a parting shot, then immediately turned and walked off in the direction of the castle.

Kanbei quickly returned to Mount Hirai, went before Hideyoshi, and showed him Goto's son.

"Bring him up well," Hideyoshi said. "It will be an act of charity. He looks like a fine boy, doesn't he?" Hideyoshi loved children, and he looked at Iwanosuke's face fondly and patted his head.

Perhaps Iwanosuke did not yet understand; he was only seven. Being in a strange camp with strange man, he simply stared goggle-eyed at everything around him. Many years later he would become famous as a warrior of the Kuroda clan. But right now he was a solitary child, almost like a mountain monkey that had fallen out of its tree.

Finally the day came: it was announced that Miki Castle had fallen. It was the seventeenth day of the First Month of the eighth year of Tensho. Nagaharu, his younger brother Tomoyuki, and his senior retainers disemboweled themselves, the castle was opened, and Uno Uemon delivered a letter of surrender to Hideyoshi.

We resisted for two years and did everything we could as warriors. The only thing I would not be able to bear is the death of several thousand brave and loyal warriors and the members of my family. I plead for my retainers and hope that you will show them mercy.

Hideyoshi agreed to this manly request and accepted the surrender of Miki Castle.


A Retainers Duty | Taiko | Men of God