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Fortress in a Lake

Two samurai galloped through the wicket gates of Okayama, their horses raising a cloud of dust as they hurried toward the castle. No one paid much attention to the riders. When they reached the gates, they announced that they carried an urgent dispatch from Lord Nobunaga in Kai.

Hideyoshi was in the citadel when a retainer came in to announce the arrival of the messengers.

"Have them wait in the Heron Room," he ordered.

This room was reserved for conversations of the most secret nature. Almost as soon as the two messengers had entered, Hideyoshi came in and sat down. One of the men took the letter from the folds of his kimono and laid it respectfully in front of Hideyoshi. It was wrapped in two or three sheets of oiled paper. Hideyoshi removed the outer wrap­ping and cut through the envelope.

"Ah, it's been a long time since I've looked at His Lordship's handwriting," he said. Before opening the letter, he held it reverently to his forehead: it was, after all, written by his lord's own hand.

When he finished reading, Hideyoshi placed the letter into his kimono and asked, "Did our troops in Kai achieve brilliant victories?"

"His Lordship's army was an irresistible force. About the time we left Kai, Lord Nobutada's army had already reached Suwa."

"That's just what you'd expect of Lord Nobunaga. He must have gone out into battle himself. Was he in good spirits?"

"I heard from one of the men on the campaign that going through the mountains was just like a spring flower-viewing outing. It seems that Lord Nobunaga will return by the coast road and view Mount Fuji on the way."

The messengers withdrew. Hideyoshi remained where he was, gazing at the painting of the white herons on the sliding doors. Yellow pigment had been applied to the eyes of the birds, and they looked as if they were staring back at him.

It will have to be Kanbei, Hideyoshi said to himself. He's the only one I can send. He summoned a page and said, "Kuroda Kanbei should be in the outer citadel. Have him and Hachisuka Hikoemon come here."

Hideyoshi took the letter out and read it once more. It was not really a letter, but the pledge he had requested from Nobunaga. Hideyoshi could have easily mobilized sixty thousand soldiers right here in Okayama. However, he had not crossed the border into the enemy province of Bitchu, which he had to conquer first if he was to defeat the Mori clan. There remained one obstacle in Hideyoshi's path into Bitchu that he was determined to remove—bloodlessly, if he could. This obstacle was the main castle of the seven fortresses that formed the enemy line of defense on the borders of the province: Takamatsu Castle.

Kanbei and Hikoemon came into the small room, and Hideyoshi immediately felt more at ease.

"His Lordship's pledge has just arrived," Hideyoshi began. "I'm afraid I'm going to ask you to go through more hardships. I'd like you to go to Takamatsu Castle."

"Would you mind if I read the pledge?" Kanbei asked.

Kanbei read it with the same respect he would have shown had he been addressing Nobunaga in person.

The pledge was addressed to the commander of Takamatsu Castle, Shimizu Muneharu. Nobunaga promised that if Muneharu capitulated, he would be rewarded with a domain consisting of the provinces of Bitchu and Bingo. He had taken an oath before the gods, Nobunaga continued, and nothing could induce him to go back on his word.

"I'd like you and Hikoemon to go to Takamatsu Castle as soon as possible," he told Kanbei. "I doubt there will be any problems when you meet General Muneharu and talk to him, but if there are, I don't imagine he'll remain unmoved after he sees this seal."

Hideyoshi looked optimistic, but the two other men were unable to share his confidence. Did he really believe that Shimizu Muneharu would betray his masters, the Mori, just because of this pledge, or did Hideyoshi have something else in mind?

The journey from Okayama to Takamatsu Castle took less than a day, and the messengers arrived all the quicker because they were on horseback. Passing through their own front lines, they looked up in the direction of the Kibi Mountains at the red setting sun.

From this point on, whoever they encountered would be the enemy. This was not the spring they had left behind in Okayama. The fields and villages were deserted.

A rider galloped from the front line to the palisade around Takamatsu Castle and waited for instructions. Finally, Kanbei and Hikoemon were ushered in through the palisade and led to the castle gate. Takamatsu was a typical example of a castle built on a plain. There were rice paddies and fields on either side of the road leading up to the main gate. The embankments and the outer stone walls stood in the middle of paddies. With each step up the stone stairs, the battlements and sharp, pointed walls of the main citadel loomed ever closer overhead.

Once inside the main citadel, it was clear to the envoys that this was the strongest of the seven fortresses on the border. The area inside the castle was broad, and although more than two thousand soldiers were stationed here, it was quiet. Because of Muneharu's decision to fight, the castle was accommodating an additional three thousand civilian refugees. Muneharu had decided to make his stand against the billowing waves of the eastern army in this one castle.

Kanbei and Hikoemon were shown into an empty room.Without his staff Kanbei limped inside with difficulty.

"Lord Muneharu will be here momentarily," the page said. He seemed to be less than twenty years old, and as he withdrew, his behavior was no different from what it would have been in peacetime.

The general came in, sat down unpretentiously, and said, "I am Shimizu Muneharu. I understand that you are envoys from Lord Hideyoshi. Welcome." He seemed to be about fifty, unassuming and plainly dressed. He had no retainers on either side of him, only a page of eleven or twelve kneeling behind him. The man was so lacking in ostenta­tion that if it hadn't been for his sword and the one page, he would have looked like a vil­lage headman.

Kanbei, for his part, was extremely courteous with this unassuming general. "It's a pleasure to meet you. I am Kuroda Kanbei."

As the two men introduced themselves, Muneharu bowed affably. The envoys re­joiced, thinking that they would have no trouble in winning him over.

"Hikoemon," Kanbei said, "would you please tell General Muneharu the purport of His Lordship's message?" Although it would have been more proper for the senior of the two envoys to make the opening remarks, Kanbei thought that the older and mellower Hikoemon would more efficaciously present the merits of their case.

"Allow me to explain our mission, General. Lord Hideyoshi has ordered us to talk to you frankly, and I can do nothing less than that. Lord Hideyoshi would like to avoid a pointless battle if it is at all possible. I think you fully understand how things are going in the west. In terms of numbers, we can easily raise one hundred fifty thousand men, while the Mori have only forty-five thousand men, perhaps fifty at the very most. In addition, the Mori's allies—the Uesugi of Echigo, the Takeda of Kai, the warrior-monks of Mount Hiei and the Honganji, and the shogun—have all crumbled. What kind of moral justice can the Mori claim today by fighting and turning the west into scorched earth?

"On the other hand," Hikoemon went on, "Lord Nobunaga has won the favor of the Emperor and the love and respect of the people. The nation is finally emerging from the darkness of civil war and is greeting a new dawn. Lord Hideyoshi is pained by the thought that you and the many fine men who serve you will die. He wonders if there is not some means to avoid that sacrifice and asks you to reconsider one last time."

Taking out Nobunaga's pledge and a letter from Hideyoshi, Kanbei spoke next. "I will not talk of advantages and disadvantages. Instead, I would like to show you something that demonstrates the intentions of both Lord Hideyoshi and Lord Nobunaga. They both value good warriors. This, therefore, is a signed pledge promising you the provinces of Bitchu and Bingo."

Muneharu bowed respectfully to the document but did not pick it up. He said to Kanbei, "These are quite truly excessive words and this is a document granting me an unmerited reward. I have no idea what to say or what the proper etiquette might be. The stipend that I have received from the Mori clan is no more than seven thousand bushels, and surely I am nothing more than a country samurai approaching old age."

Muneharu said nothing about an agreement. Then there was silence. The two envoys sat in suspense. No matter what they said to him, he would only repeat, warmly and with great respect, "This is more than fair."

Neither all of Hikoemon's experience nor Kanbei's genius seemed to be of any use against this man. As envoys, however, they were determined to break through the wall, and they made their last effort.

"We have really said all that we can say," Kanbei said, "but if you have any particular desires or conditions you would like to add, we will be happy to listen to them and transmit them to Their Lordships. Please speak frankly."

"You're asking me to be frank?" Muneharu asked, almost as though he were talking to himself. He then looked at the two men. "Well, I wonder if you will listen. My hope is that, having reached the end of my life, I do not stray from the right path. That is my first principle. The Mori clan is neither better nor worse than your master in terms of loyalty to the Emperor. Unworthy as I am, I am a retainer of the Mori clan, and even though I've spent an idle life, I've received a stipend from the Mori for many years. My entire clan has received favors from them, and now, during these times of change, I have been ordered to guard the border. Even if I were aiming to make some small profit, and I accepted Lord Hideyoshi's kind offer and became the lord of two provinces, I would not be as happy as I am now. If I turned my back on my lord's clan, what kind of face would I be able to show to the world? At the very least, I would appear to be a complete hypocrite to my family and retainers, and I myself would be breaking every precept I have taught them all along." He laughed. "So, while I appreciate the kindness you've shown, please ask Lord Hideyoshi to forget about all this."

Shaking his head as though he were deeply sorry, Kanbei spoke quickly and distinctly, “I’m not going to be able to persuade you. Hikoemon, we should go."

Hikoemon was unhappy that they had failed, but he had feared from the first that that might happen. Both of them had predicted that Muneharu could not be bribed. "The road will be dangerous during the night. Why don't you stay in the castle tonight, and then leave early tomorrow morning?" Muneharu insisted. It was not simply formality on his part, and the envoys knew he was a truly warm human being. He was their enemy, but he was an honest man.

"No, Lord Hideyoshi will be waiting anxiously for your reply," Hikoemon said. The envoys asked only for torches and then set out on their way. Concerned that something might happen to them, Muneharu sent three of his retainers to take them as as the front lines.

Kanbei and Hikoemon had ridden all the way to and from Takamatsu Castle without breaking their journey for rest or sleep. As soon as they arrived in Okayama, they went straight to Hideyoshi. Their report was short and factual: "General Muneharu refuses to capitulate. His resolve is firm, so another attempt at negotiation would be futile."

Hideyoshi did not appear to be surprised. He told the two men to come back after they had rested. Later that day, Hideyoshi summoned the envoys and several of his gen­erals for a conference.

Referring to a map of the area, Kanbei reviewed the position of the defensive line of seven fortresses. Hideyoshi looked up from the map and stretched out as though he were tired. Earlier he had received news of Nobunaga's victory in Kai. Comparing the ease of his lord's successes with his own difficulties, Hideyoshi hoped that his prospects would improve from then on. He had at once addressed a letter to Nobunaga, to express his congratulations and explain the prospects for his own campaign, and to inform him that he had dropped the idea of trying to persuade Shimizu Muneharu to surrender.

Around the middle of the Third Month, the twenty thousand troops who had been standing by at Himeji entered Okayama, and the Ukita clan sent another ten thousand men. Thus, with a combined force of thirty thousand, Hideyoshi cautiously advanced into Bitchu. After marching only one league, he stopped and waited for reconnaissance reports; after another two leagues, he halted to reconnoiter again. Every soldier had heard the reports of the brilliant victories in Kai, so many found this prudent advance frustrat­ing. Some hastily declared that Takamatsu Castie and the other smaller fortresses could be captured in a single swift advance.

When they understood actual battlefield conditions and the enemy's positions, how­ever, they had to admit that winning a quick victory would be difficult.

Hideyoshi made his first camp on Mount Ryuo, a high plateau well to the north of Takamatsu Castle. From there he could look directly into the castle itself. At a glance he could see the lay of the land and appreciate the interdependence of the fortresses and main castle. He could also survey troop movements from the Mori clan's headquarters and be forewarned if they sent reinforcements.

Hideyoshi began the campaign by taking the small border fortresses one by one, until only Takamatsu remained. Concerned about this negative turn of events, Muneharu sent repeated messages to his overlords, the Mori, begging for reinforcements. One after an­other, couriers departed with ever more desperate appeals, but conditions did not permit the Mori to counterattack. And it would take them several weeks before they could as­semble an army of forty thousand men and march to Takamatsu Castle. The only thing the Mori could do was encourage Muneharu to hold on and assure him that reinforce­ments were on their way. Then all communications between the castle and its allies were cut.

On the twenty-seventh day of the Fourth Month, Hideyoshi laid siege to Takamatsu Castle. But the fifteen thousand men at his headquarters on Mount Ryuo did not move. Hideyoshi positioned five thousand men on the high ground at Hirayama and the ten thousand men of the Ukita clan on Mount Hachiman.

Hideyoshi's generals positioned themselves at the rear of the Ukita contingent. It looked like the first arrangement of counters on a go board, and the positioning of his own retainers to the rear of the Ukita, who until recently had been allies of the Mori, was a matter of prudence.

There were skirmishes between the vanguards of the two armies from the first day of the siege. Kuroda Kanbei, who had just returned from inspecting the front lines, went to see Hideyoshi and described the first day's bloody engagement.

"During this morning's battle," Kanbei began, "Lord Ukita's warriors suffered more than five hundred casualties, while the enemy lost no more than a hundred men. Eighty of the enemy were killed, and twenty others were taken prisoner, but only because they were seriously wounded."

"It was to be expected," Hideyoshi said. "This castle will not fall without bloodshed, it seems that the Ukita fought well." The loyalty of the Ukita vanguard had indeed been tested.

*  *  *

With the Fifth Month the weather turned sunny and dry. The Ukita, who had suffered heavy casualties in the initial fighting, dug a trench across the front of the castle walls for five nights under cover of darkness. Once the trench was completed, they launched an attack on the castle.

When the defenders saw that the Ukita had advanced as far as the castle gate and outer walls, they hurled insults at them. It was easy to imagine the anger they felt toward these men who had once been their allies but who were now fighting as Hideyoshi's vanguard. As soon as they saw their opportunity, the defenders threw open the main gate and charged out.

"Attack these maggots!" they shouted. "Kill them all!"

Samurai to samurai, soldier to soldier, they grappled and struck at each other. Heads were taken and raised, and they fought with a ferocity rarely seen even on a battlefield. "Fall back! Fall back!" the Ukita general suddenly shouted in the middle of clouds of  dust and smoke.

Glaring at the retreating Ukita, the defenders were carried away with the desire to crush them underfoot. They started to pursue them with cries of "Strike them down!" and "All the way to their banners!"

Too late, the mounted commander of the castle vanguard spotted the Ukita trench ahead. Seeing the trap, he tried to stop his men, but they stumbled forward, unable to see danger. A volley of gunfire and thick gunpowder smoke instantly rose from the trench. The attackers staggered and fell.

"It's a trap! Don't fall into the enemy's trap! Lie down! Lie down!" the commander shouted. "Let them fire! Wait for them to reload, then jump on them!"

With fearful war cries, several men sacrificed themselves; they leaped up to draw enemy fire and were bathed in bullets. Judging the interval before the next round, others toward the trench and jumped in, filling the earth with fighting and blood. That night it began to rain. The banners and the curtained enclosures of Mount Ryuo were drenched. Hideyoshi took cover in a hut and watched the melancholy clouds of the rainy season. He did not look very cheerful.

He looked around and called to a retainer, "Toranosuke, is that the sound of rain or someone's footsteps? Go see what it is."

Toranosuke went out but quickly returned and reported, "Lord Kanbei has just now returned from the battlefield. On the way back, one of the men carrying his litter slipped on the steep path, and Lord Kanbei took a hard fall. Lord Kanbei just laughed as though he were amused."

Why was Kanbei out at the front lines in this rain? As usual, Hideyoshi was impressed with Kanbei's untiring spirit.

Toranosuke withdrew to the next room and put firewood on the hearth. With the rain, the mosquitoes had begun to hatch, and they were especially troublesome that evening. The fire heated up the already muggy atmosphere, but at least it also smoked out the mosquitoes.

"It's smoky in here," Kanbei said, coughing. He limped past the pages and entered Hideyoshi's room unannounced.

He and Hideyoshi were soon talking happily. Their voices almost seemed to compete with each other.

"I think it's going to be difficult," Hideyoshi said.

Hideyoshi and Kanbei fell silent for a moment and listened to the dreary sound of the early summer rain pouring off the eaves of the makeshift hut.

"It's just a question of time," Kanbei began. "A second all-out offensive would be a gamble. On the other hand, we could resign ourselves to a long campaign and besiege the castle at our leisure, but there are great dangers in that, too. The forty thousand troops from the Mori's home province might arrive and attack us from the rear, and then we would be caught between them and the men in Takamatsu Castie."

"That's why I'm so depressed this rainy season. Don't you have any good ideas, Kanbei?"

"I've been walking around the front lines for the last two days, looking carefully at the position of the enemy castle and the surrounding geographical features. At this point I have only one plan on which we could stake everything."

"Takamatsu's fall is not just a question of taking a single enemy castle," Hideyoshi said. "If it falls, Yoshida Castle will soon be ours. But if we stumble here, that one defeat will cost us five years of work. We need a plan, Kanbei. I've asked the people in the next room to withdraw so you can speak without reserve. I want to know what you'n thinking."

"It's rude of me to say so, but I suspect you have a plan too, my lord."

"I won't deny it."

"May I ask what yours is first?"

"Let's both write our ideas down," Hideyoshi suggested, bringing out paper, brush, and ink.

When they had finished writing, the two men exchanged sheets of paper. Hideyoshi had written one word, "water," and Kanbei had written two: "water attack."

Laughing out loud, the two men crumpled the sheets of paper and put them in their sleeves.

"Man's wisdom obviously doesn't exceed certain limits," Hideyoshi said.

"That's true," Kanbei agreed. "Takamatsu Castle stands on a plain conveniently surrounded by mountains. Not only that, but the Ashimori and seven other rivers run through the plain. It should not be difficult to divert the water of these rivers and flood the castle. It's a bold plan that most generals would not even think of. I can't help but admire how quickly you grasped the situation, my lord. But why do you hesitate to put it into action?"

"Well, since ancient times, there have been plenty of examples of successful attacks on castles using fire, but almost none with water."

"I think I've seen it mentioned in the military chronicles of the Later Han Dynasty and the period of the Three Kingdoms. In one of the chronicles I read something about our own country during the reign of Emperor Tenchi. When the Chinese invaded, our soldiers built dikes to store water. When the Chinese attacked, the Japanese soldiers were going to cut through the dikes and wash them all away."

"Yes, but they didn't actually have to put the plan into operation because the Chinese withdrew. If this plan is carried out, I'll be using a strategy that has no precedent. So I'm going to have to order some officials who have detailed knowledge of geography to determine what will be necessary in terms of time, expenses, and men for the engineering work."

What Hideyoshi wanted was not just a rough estimate, but concrete figures and a flawless plan.

"Absolutely. One of my retainers is very clever with such things, and if you order him to come here now, I think he'll have a clear answer for you right away. In fact, the strategy I had in mind is based on this man's ideas."

"Who is he?" Hideyoshi asked.

"Yoshida Rokuro," Kanbei replied.

"Well, call him right away." Then Hideyoshi added, "I also have someone at hand who is conversant with construction and land conditions. What would you think about calling him here at the same time and having him talk with Rokuro?"

"That would be good. Who is he?"

"He's not one of my retainers but a samurai from Bitchu. He's called Senbara Kyuemon. He's here in camp right now, and I have him working exclusively on making charts of the area."

Hideyoshi clapped his hands to summon a page, but all of his personal attendants and pages had withdrawn to some distance, and the sound of his clapping did not reach them. The din of the rain compounded the problem. Hideyoshi got up and stepped into next room himself, and yelled out in a voice that would have been more proper on a battlefield, "Hey! Isn't anybody here?"

Once the decision had been taken to proceed with the water attack, the main camp on Mount Ryuo was found to be inconvenient. On the seventh day of the Fifth Month, Hideyoshi moved to Mount Ishii, which had been chosen because it overlooked Takamatsu Castle.

On the following day Hideyoshi said, "Let's start to measure the distances."

Hideyoshi, accompanied by half-a-dozen generals, rode to the west of Takamatsu Castle, to Monzen, on the banks of the Ashimori River. All the while he kept an eye on the castle to his right. Wiping the sweat from his face, Hideyoshi summoned Kyuemon. "What's the distance from the ridge of Mount Ishii to Monzen?" he asked.

"Under a league, my lord," Kyuemon answered.

"Lend me your map."

Taking the map from Kyuemon, Hideyoshi compared the construction of the pro­posed dike to the lay of the land. There were mountains on three sides, creating a natural baylike formation, extending in the west from Kibi to the mountainous area of the upper reaches of the Ashimori River; in the north from Mount Ryuo to the mountains along the border of Okayama; in the east to the edge of Mount Ishii and Kawazugahana. Takamatsu Castle was situated right in the middle of this open plain.

In Hideyoshi's eyes the fields, rice paddies, riding grounds, and villages on this flat plain were already submerged. The way he saw it, the mountainous banks on three sides could be viewed as a winding line of capes and beaches and Takamatsu Castle itself as a solitary man-made island.

Hideyoshi gave the map back to Kyuemon, reassured about the feasibility of the project, and once again mounted his horse. "Let's go!" he called out to his attendants, then said to Rokuro and Kyuemon, "I'm going to ride from here to Mount Ishii. Take the measurements for the dike by following the hoofmarks of my horse."

Hideyoshi turned his horse due east and galloped off, riding straight from Monzen to Harakozai, and then describing an arc from there to Mount Ishii. Kyuemon and Rokuro chased behind him, leaving a trail of powdered rice meal. After them followed laborers who drove in stakes to mark the line of the dike.

When the line that had been drawn became an embankment and the waters of the seven rivers were diverted to flow inside it, the entire area would become a huge lake shaped like a half-open lotus leaf. When the men looked carefully at the lay of the land that formed the border between Bizen and Bitchu, they realized that it must have been part of the sea in the distant past. The battle had commenced. It was not to be a battle of blood, but a war waged against the earth.

The length of the dike was to be one league; its width was to be thirty feet at the top and sixty feet at the base. The problem was its height, which had to be proportional to the height of the walls of Takamatsu Castle.

In fact, the primary factor assuring the success of the water attack was the fact that the castle's outer stone walls were only twelve feet high. Thus the height of the dike of twenty-four feet was figured from a base of twelve feet. It was calculated that if the water level rose to that height, it would not only submerge the castle's outer stone walls but also flood the castle itself under six feet of water.

It is only rarely, however, that a project is completed ahead of schedule. And the problem that so troubled Kanbei was one of human resources. For the most part, he would have to rely on the local farmers. The population of the neighboring villages, how­ever, was rather sparse, because Muneharu had taken more than five hundred farming families into the castle before the siege, and many others had fled to the mountains.

The farmers who had taken refuge in the castle were ready to live or die with their lord. They were good, simple folk who had served Muneharu for years. Many of those who remained in the villages were people of bad character, or opportunists who were willing to work on a battlefield.

Hideyoshi could count on the cooperation of Ukita Naoie, and Kanbei was able to muster several thousand men from Okayama. But what troubled him was not getting this number of men together; his problem was how to use those human resources with the greatest efficiency.

On a tour of inspection, he called over Rokuro and asked for a progress report.

"I'm sorry to say that we may not meet His Lordship's schedule," Rokuro replied sadly.

Even the mathematical brain of this man could not figure out how to extract hard rk from the mixed group of laborers and ruffians. For this reason a series of guardhouses had been set up every ninety yards along the dike, and soldiers were stationed at each of these surveillance points to encourage the laborers. Because the soldiers were simply there as passive observers, however, the thousands of men who swung their mattocks and shouldered dirt like ants were hardly spurred on at all.

Moreover, the timetable that Hideyoshi had imposed was extremely tight. Urgent messages reached him night and day. The forty thousand troops of the Mori had split into three armies under Kikkawa, Kobayakawa, and Terumoto, and they were getting closer to the provincial border by the hour.

Kanbei watched the laborers. Exhausted by working all hours of the day and night, some hardly moved at all. They had only two weeks to complete the project.

Two days. Three days. Five days passed.

Kanbei thought, Progress is so slow that we won't be able to complete the dike in fifty or even in a hundred days, much less in two weeks.

Rokuro and Kyuemon were going without sleep, supervising the workers. But no matter what they did, the men were disgruntled and insolent. To make matters worse, some laborers intentionally sabotaged the schedule by persuading even the comparatively submissive workers to hinder the project with deliberate slowness.

Kanbei was unable to watch passively. He finally began to visit the construction site himself, staff in hand. Standing on a hill of fresh earth at a section of the dike that had finally been completed, he looked down, with eyes aflame, at the thousands of workers. When he discovered someone showing the least bit of sloth, he would dash up to the laborer with a speed hardly befitting a cripple, and beat him with his staff.

"Get to work! Why are you being lazy?"

The laborers would tremble and work frantically, but only while Kanbei was watching them.

"The crippled demon warrior is looking!"

Kanbei finally made a report to Hideyoshi: "It's going to be impossible to finish on time. Just to make sure we are prepared, I'd like to request that you decide on some strategy beforehand in case the Mori reinforcements arrive while the construction is only half done. By the gods, it's more difficult getting these laborers to work than it is getting troops to maneuver."

Uncharacteristically nervous, Hideyoshi counted silently on his fingers. He was being informed hourly of the approach of a large Mori army, and he received the dispatches just as he might watch the clouds of an evening squall approach the mountains.

"Don't be discouraged, Kanbei. We still have another seven days."

"The construction is less than a third finished. How are we going to complete the dike in the few days we have left?"

"We can do it." This was the first time Hideyoshi had contradicted Kanbei so strongly. "We can finish it. But it won't be done if we only get the strength of three thousand men from our three thousand workers. Now if one man works like three or even five men, our three thousand workers will have the strength of ten thousand. If the samurai supervising them act in the same way, one man will be able to muster the spirit of ten men, and we should be able to accomplish anything we want. Kanbei, I'm coming to the construction site myself."

The following morning, a yellow-robed messenger ran around the construction site, ordering the laborers to stop their work and gather around a banner set up on the dike.

The workers from the night shift who were on their way home, and the men just now coming on, all followed their bosses. When the three thousand workers were assembled, it was difficult to differentiate the color of the earth from the color of the men themselves.

Prompted partly by uneasiness, the wave of blackened men moved forward. They had not lost their false show of courage, however, and continued to joke and banter. Suddenly the crowd became hushed as Hideyoshi moved toward the stool set up next to the banner. His pages and retainers were to his right and left, and stood back solemnly. The demon warrior, Kuroda Kanbei, who was the target of their daily malice, stood off to the side, resting on his staff. He addressed them from the top of the dike.

"Today it is Lord Hideyoshi's wish that you tell him your thoughts. As you all know, the time allotted for building the dike is more than halfway through, but the construction is going slowly. Lord Hideyoshi says that one of the reasons for this is that you have not been making a real effort. He has commanded you to gather here so that you can frankly explain why you are dissatisfied or unhappy, and what it is that you want."

Kanbei stopped for a moment and looked at the laborers. Here and there, men were whispering.

"The bosses of the various groups must understand the feelings of their men well. Don't miss this opportunity to tell His Lordship exactly what you want. Five or six men should come up here as representatives and speak out about your dissatisfactions and de­sires. If they are legitimate, they will be addressed."

With that, a tall man, stripped to the waist and with an insubordinate expression, came forward. Looking as if he were trying to gain favor with the herd of men, he climbed aggressively to the top of the dike. When they saw this, three or four more la­borers swaggered up after him.

"Are these the only representatives?" Kanbei asked.

As they approached Hideyoshi's camp stool, each of them knelt down on the earth.

"It's not necessary to kneel," Kanbei told them. "Today His Lordship has cordially asked you to explain your discontent. You've come up here before him representing all of the laborers, so speak your minds freely. Whether or not we finish this construction on

time depends on you. We want you to tell us the reasons for the resentment and dissatisfaction you have hidden inside yourselves until now. Let's start with the man who came up here first, on the right. Speak up now." Kanbei's tone was conciliatory.

When Kanbei urged them to speak a second time, one of the five men representing the laborers spoke up.

"Well then, I'll take you at your word and speak, but don't get mad, all right? For one thing… well, all right… please listen to this…."

"Speak."

"Well, you're paying us one sho of rice and a hundred mon for every sandbag we haul, and the fact is that all of us—a couple of thousand poor folks—are real happy to be employed. But, well, we all think—and me, too—you might go back on your word because we're all just laborers, anyway."

"Well now," Kanbei said, "why should a man with Lord Hideyoshi's reputation go back on his word? Every time you carry a sandbag, you receive a branded strip of bambooo that you can exchange for pay in the evening, don't you?"

"Yes, Your Honor, we get the bamboo strips, but we only get paid one sho of brown rice and a hundred mon even if we've carried ten or twenty sacks in one day. The rest is military stubs and rice tickets to cash in later."

"That's right."

"So it troubles us, Your Honor. What we've earned would be fine in either rice or money, but without the real thing, a poor day-laborer like me can't feed his wife and children."

"Isn't one sho of rice and a hundred mon a living far better than what you usually earn?"

"You shouldn't joke, Your Honor. We're not horses or cows, and if we worked like this all year, we'd be done for. But, well, we've agreed to it, following His Lordship's orders, and we've been working day and night. Now, we can do unreasonable work if we get our wants filled along the way, and thinking that afterward we can drink sake, pay back our debts, and buy some new clothes for the wife. But if we get paid in promises, we just can't continue putting our hearts into the work."

"Well, you're pretty hard to understand. Lord Hideyoshi's army has made it a principle to rule benevolently and has done nothing despotic at all so far. What, really, do you have to complain about?"

The five laborers laughed coldly. One of them said, "Your Honor, we're not complaining. Just pay us what we've earned. We can't fill our stomachs with waste paper and rice tickets. And, more important than that, who is going to give us real money for that waste paper on the day Lord Hideyoshi loses?"

"If that's what it is, you have nothing to worry about!"

"Ah, but wait. You say that you're going to win, and you and all these generals have staked your lives on this gamble, but I wouldn't put a half share on a bet like that. Hey, everybody! Isn't that right?"

As he waved his arms from the top of the dike, asking for the thousands of workers' agreement, a shout arose instantaneously in response, and a wave of human heads undulated back and forth as far as the eye could see.

"Is that your only complaint?" Kanbei asked.

"Yeah. That's what we'd like to settle first," the man replied, looking to the crowd for support but not showing the least bit of fear.

"Absolutely not!" Kanbei spoke in his true voice for the first time. That instant, he threw down his staff, unsheathed his sword, and sliced the man in two. Turning quickly to another who had started to run away, he cut him down too. At the same time, Rokuro and Kyuemon—who were standing behind Kanbei—wielded their swords and finished off the other three men in a shower of gushing blood.

In this way Kanbei, Kyuemon, and Rokuro divided up their work and cut down five men in the instant it takes lightning to strike.

Struck by the speed and unexpectedness of the action, the laborers were as hushed as grass in a graveyard. The dissatisfied voices had been hushed in an instant. The faces that had been so impudent up until then—the defiant looks—were gone. Nothing was left but countless faces the color of earth, cowering in fear.

Standing over the five corpses, the three samurai glared ominously at the laborers, their blood-soaked swords still in their hands.

Kanbei finally shouted with all his ferocity, "These five men who represented you— we called them up here, listened to what they had to say, and gave them a very clear an­swer. Someone else may have something to say, too, however." He paused, waiting for someone to speak up. "Surely there's someone down there who wants to come up. Who's next? If there's anyone who thinks he wants to say something for everyone, now's the time to speak up!"

Kanbei was quiet for a moment, giving the men time to reflect on the matter. Among those numberless heads, there were very clearly men whose expressions were changing from fear to regret. Kanbei wiped the blood off his sword and returned it to its scabbard. Softening his expression, he lectured the laborers in a dignified manner.

"I see that no one is going to come up after these five men, so I imagine that means your intentions are different from theirs. If I'm right, then I'm going to have my say. Are there any objections?"

The several thousand laborers answered in the voices of men who had been saved from death. Not one of them had an objection. Nobody had any intention of complain­ing. The men who had spoken were clearly the ringleaders who had instigated the slow­downs. The rest were going to follow orders and work. Would Hideyoshi forgive them?

The three thousand men were speaking noisily back and forth, some in whispers, some yelling, so that one could hardly understand who was saying what. The feeling of the entire crowd, however, was united.

"Quiet now!" Kanbei waved his hand to control them. "All right. This is the way I think it should be. I'm not going to say anything complicated, but essentially it would be best if you all worked happily and quickly with your wives and children under His Lord­ship's administration. If you're indolent or greedy, you will only delay the arrival of the day you are looking forward to. The expeditionary army sent by Lord Nobunaga will not be defeated by the Mori. No matter how large a province the Mori control, it is a province that is doomed to fall. This is not because the Mori are weak, but because of the great movement of the times. Do you understand?"

"Yes," the laborers replied.

"Well then, are you going to work?"

"We're going to work. We're really going to work!"

"All right!" Kanbei nodded strongly and turned toward Hideyoshi. "My lord, you can hear how the workers have spoken, so won't you be generous with them this time?" He almost seemed to be pleading for the crowd.

Hideyoshi stood up. He gave a command to Kanbei and the two officials who were kneeling before him. Almost immediately, foot soldiers walked over, shouldering what appeared to be heavy money bags—a mountain of straw money bags.

Facing the laborers, who were caught up in their fears and regrets, Kanbei said, “You're really not to blame. All of you are in a pitiful situation. You've been led astray by two or three bad elements. That is what Lord Hideyoshi has declared; and so that you'll work with no other thoughts in mind, he has commanded that we give you a bonus to urge you on a little. Receive, express your thanks, and get quickly back to work."

When the command was given to the foot soldiers, every straw bag there was broken open and the mountain of coins poured out, almost covering the top of the dike.

"Grab however much you can and go. But only one fistful for each man."

He said this quite clearly, but the laborers still hesitated to make a move forward.  They whispered among themselves and looked back and forth at each other, but the mountain of coins stayed right where it was.

"The fastest man will be the winner! Don't complain after it's all gone. Each man should take a fistful, so the men born with big hands can account themselves lucky, and men with little hands shouldn't let anything slip between their fingers. Don't get excited and fail. Then go back to work."

The laborers no longer had any doubts. They could see that Kanbei meant what he said with his smiling face and jocular words. The laborers in the front of the crowd rushed up to the mountain of coins. They wavered a little, as though frightened by the sight of so much money, but as soon as the first man had grabbed a fistful and retreated, a chorus of happy voices suddenly arose. It sounded almost like a victory song. Almost immediately such confusion took over that coins, men, and clods of earth were hardly distinguishable. No man, however, tried to cheat—somewhere along the line they had all thrown off their craftiness and dissatisfaction. Holding on to their handfuls of coins, they seemed to have been transformed, and each man ran off to his own work station.

The echoes of hoes and spades being used with real force filled the air. With spirited yells, men dumped earth, inserted poles through the straw carrying-baskets, and shouldered sandbags away. Real spirit was being mustered for the first time. The sweat the men were now wringing out of themselves increasingly gladdened and refreshed them, and they began to shout with enthusiasm among themselves.

"Who says we can't finish this dike in five days? Hey, everybody—remember the big flood?"

"That's right. This is nothing like trying to keep the flood waters out."

"Let's do it! Let's give it all we've got!"

"I'm not going to give up!"

In just half a day, more work was accomplished than in the previous five.

The overseers' whips and Kanbei's staff were no longer needed. Bonfires were lit at night, the dust from the earth darkened the day, and finally the work was almost finished.

As the landlocked dike neared completion, the related work of diverting the seven rivers around Takamatsu Castle also advanced. Nearly twenty thousand men had been put to work on that project. Damming up and drawing off the waters of the Ashimori and Naruya rivers were the construction projects considered to be the most difficult.

The official in charge of damming the Ashimori often complained to Hideyoshi, "The level of water is rising every day with the heavy rains in the mountains. There just doesn't seem to be any way of damming it."

Kanbei had gone to inspect the site with Rokuro the day before, and he understood the extreme difficulty of the situation.

"The current is so strong that even when we pushed in boulders that took twenty or thirty men to move, they were washed away immediately."

When even Kanbei could only bring back excuses, Hideyoshi went to the river him­self to see the actual situation. But when he stood there and looked at the power of the rushing current, his own human knowledge was overwhelmed.

Rokuro came up and offered a suggestion: "If we cut down trees at the upper reaches of the river and push them in with the foliage still attached, it may slow the cur­rent a little."

This plan was put into operation, and for half a day, more than a thousand workers felled trees and tossed them whole into the river. But this, too, failed to slow the current.

Rokuro's next suggestion was to sink thirty large boats loaded with huge boulders at the site of the proposed dam.

Pulling the huge boats up against the current, however, proved to be impossible, so wooden planks were set out on the land, oil was poured over them, and, with great effort, the boats were pulled overland and sunk with their loads of boulders at the mouth of the river.

In the meantime the great dike, stretching an entire league, had been completed, and the rushing current of the Ashimori was transformed into foam and spray and diverted toward the plain around Takamatsu Castle.

At about the same time, the waters of the other six rivers were channeled into the area. Only the channeling of the Naruya River had proved too difficult for the workers to complete on time.

Fourteen days had passed since the seventh day of the Fifth Month, the day the work began. It had been completed in two weeks.

On the twenty-first day of the Fifth Month, the forty thousand Mori troops under Kikkawa and Kobayakawa arrived at the border—one day after the surroundings of Takamatsu Castle had been transformed into a muddy lake.

On the morning of the twenty-first, Hideyoshi stood with his generals at the headquarters on Mount Ishii and looked over his handiwork.

Whether one thought of it a grand spectacle or a wretched one, the swollen waters— aided by the rain during the night—had left Takamatsu Castle standing completely iso­lated in the middle of a lake. The outer stone walls, the forest, the drawbridge, the roofs of

The houses, the villages, the fields, the rice paddies, and the roads were all submerged, and the level was rising hourly.

"Where's the Ashimori?"

In response to Hideyoshi's question, Kanbei pointed to a stand of pines that could dimly be seen in the west.

"As you can see, there's an opening in the dike of about four hundred fifty yards in that area, and we're running the dammed-up waters of the Ashimori through that break."

Hideyoshi followed the line of the faraway mountains from west to south. Beneath the sky directly to the south, he could see Mount Hizashi on the border. With the dawn, the countless banners of the Mori's vanguard had appeared on the mountain.

"They're the enemy, but you can't help but sympathize with what Kikkawa and Kobayakawa must have felt this morning when they arrived and saw the lake. They must have stamped on the ground in vexation," Kanbei said.

Just at that moment, the son of the official in charge of the work at the Naruya River site prostrated himself in front of Hideyoshi. He was crying.

"What's the matter?" Hideyoshi asked.

"This morning," the young man replied, "my father declared that he was guilty of inexcusable negligence. He wrote you this letter of apology and committed seppuku."

The official had been in charge of the difficult project of cutting five hundred yards through a mountain. Ninety yards remained that morning, thus he had not met his dead-:. Taking responsibility for the failure, the man had taken his own life.

Hideyoshi gazed down at the man's son, whose hands, feet, and hair were still covered with mud. He gently beckoned him to his side.

"You are not to commit seppuku yourself. Pray for your father's soul by your action on the battlefield. All right?" And he lightly patted the youth's back.

The young man cried openly. The rain began to fall. Stripes of white rain began to pour into the muddy lake from the thick clouds that were quietly descending.

It was now the night of the twenty-second day of the Fifth Month, the evening after the arrival of the Mori troops at the border.

In the dark, two men swam like strange fish across the muddy lake and crawled up to the dike. They triggered an array of clappers and bells that had been attached to a rope stretched along the water's edge, tied to the dwarf bamboo and brushwood, and made to look just like the brambles of a wild rose.

A bonfire burned brightly at each guardhouse along the dike. The guards came running quickly and captured one man, while the other was able to make good his escape.

"It doesn't make any difference whether he's one of the soldiers from the castle or on an errand from the Mori. Lord Hideyoshi should question this man carefully."

The commander of the guards sent the captive to Mount Ishii.

"Who is this man?" Hideyoshi asked as he went out to the veranda.

Retainers held lamps at either side of him, and he stared down at the enemy soldier, who was kneeling beneath the rain-covered eaves. The man knelt proudly, both arms bound with rope.

"This man's no soldier from the castle. I'll bet he's a messenger from the Mori. Wasn't he carrying anything?" he asked the retainer in charge of the prisoner.

In his preliminary investigation, the retainer had found in the man's clothing a sake bottle containing a letter, which he now placed before Hideyoshi.

"Hm… it seems to be a reply from Muneharu, addressed to Kikkawa and Kobayakawa. Bring the lamp a little closer."

The Mori reinforcements had been discouraged when they saw the lake that stretched as far as the eye could see. They had rushed to the castle, but had no idea how to aid it now that it was surrounded by water. They advised Muneharu to surrender to Hideyoshi and save the thousands of lives inside the castle.

The letter that Hideyoshi now held in his hand was Muneharu's response to that suggestion.

You have thought sympathetically of those of us here, and your words are filled with benevolence. But Takamatsu Castle is now the pivot of the western provinces, and its fall would surely signal the demise of the Mori clan. We have all received favors from the Mori clan since the time of Lord Motonari, and there is not one person here who would extend his life even by a day by selling the victory song to the enemy. We are firmly prepared for a siege, and are resolved to die with the castle.

In his letter, Muneharu was actually encouraging the reinforcements. The captured Mori messenger answered Hideyoshi's questions with unexpected frankness. Since Muneharu's letter had already been read by the enemy, he seemed resigned to the fact that it would be futile to hide anything. But Hideyoshi did not make a complete investigation. It was a matter of not humiliating a samurai. What was useless was simply appraised as such, and Hideyoshi turned his thoughts in another direction.

"I think that's enough. Untie this warrior's bonds and turn him loose."

"Turn him loose?"

"He swam across that muddy lake, and he looks cold. Feed him and send him off with a pass so he won't be arrested again on the way."

"Yes, my lord."

The retainer untied the messenger. The man had naturally been resolved to die, and was now confused. He bowed silently toward Hideyoshi and started to get up.

"I trust Lord Kikkawa is in good health," Hideyoshi said. "Please send him my warmest greetings."

The Mori messenger knelt down in the proper fashion. Feeling the depth of Hide­yoshi's kindness, he bowed with the deepest respect.

"Also, I think there is a monk by the name of Ekei on Lord Terumoto's field staff. Ekei of Ankokuji."

"There is, my lord."

"I haven't seen him for a long time. Please send him my regards as well."

As soon as the messenger had gone, Hideyoshi turned and asked a retainer, "Do you have the letter I gave you earlier?"

"Quite securely, my lord."

"It contains a secret message of great importance. Take it directly to Lord Nobunaga."

"I shall deliver it to him without fail."

"Undoubtedly, that Mori retainer left on his errand with no less resolution than your own. But he was captured, and a letter containing the intentions of both Muneharu and Kikkawa fell into my hands. Be extremely careful."

Hideyoshi sat facing the lamp. The letter he had entrusted to the messenger to take to Azuchi requested Nobunaga to lead an army into the west.

The fate of the solitary Takamatsu Castle was like that of a fish already in the net. The combined armies of Mori Terumoto, Kobayakawa Takakage, and Kikkawa Motoharu had come. The hour was now! The conquest of the west could be completed with a single blow. Hideyoshi wanted to show this grand spectacle to Nobunaga, and he believed his lord's personal attendance would guarantee a momentous victory.

"Kumquat Head!"

The castle town of Azuchi had become the bustling center of a new culture. Lively, color­fully dressed citizens thronged its streets, and above, the brilliant golds and blues of the castle donjon looked as though they had been embroidered with the green of the new spring leaves.

Conditions could not have been more different from those in the west. In the Fifth Month, while Hideyoshi and his men had been toiling day and night in the mud to ac­complish their attack on Takamatsu Castle, the streets of Azuchi were hung with decora­tions, and the town was so animated that it looked as though its citizens were celebrating the New Year and the Midsummer Festival at the same time.

Nobunaga was preparing to welcome a guest of some importance. But who, people wondered, could be that important? The man who arrived at Azuchi on the fifteenth day of the Fifth Month was none other than Lord Tokugawa Ieyasu of Mikawa.

Less than one month before, Nobunaga had made his triumphal return from Kai through Ieyasu's province of Mikawa, so he might have been doing nothing more than re­turning the courtesy. But the visit was clearly in Ieyasu's interest; it was an era of sweeping change, and no time to neglect the future. Thus, though it was rare for Ieyasu to make formal visits to other provinces, he was coming to Azuchi, attended by a brilliant retinue of retainers.

The best lodgings in the town were set aside for him, and Akechi Mitsuhide was given responsibility for his reception. In addition, Nobunaga had ordered his son Nobutada, who was about to leave for the western provinces, to help with the preparations for an extravagant three-day banquet.

Some wondered aloud why Nobunaga was giving such a lavish welcome to Ieyasu, who was eight years his junior and the lord of a province that until recently had been small and weak. Others countered that there was nothing strange about it at all. The alliance between the Oda and the Tokugawa had endured for more than twenty years without suspicion, broken agreements, or fighting, which was a miracle in those days of berayals and feudal power struggles.

A third group were of the opinion that the reason for the event was not something as trivial as repaying Ieyasu for his hospitality. They argued that in the future the lord of the Oda was going to accomplish great things. The west was a springboard to Japan's southernmost island of Kyushu, and from there to the rich lands of the Southern Seas. If Nobunaga was to succeed in their conquest, he would have to entrust the north of Japan to an ally he could trust.

For some time now, Nobunaga had planned to go to the western provinces himself to establish his own rule, just as he had done in Kai. Even now he was in the middle of busy preparations to leave for the front. Nevertheless, he put aside that important work to welcome Ieyasu.

Quite naturally, Ieyasu was given the best of what Azuchi could provide in terms of lodgings, furniture, and utensils, sake and food. But what Nobunaga wanted to give Ieyasu most of all were things that could be found in the humble tenements of the people and around the hearths of country folk—his friendship and trust.

It was these two things that had ensured the survival of their alliance. And, for his part, Ieyasu had proved himself a reliable ally time and time again. Ieyasu knew very well that his own interests were strongly tied to those of Nobunaga, despite the latter's occasional selfishness and willfulness. So even if he had drunk from a very bitter cup at times, he supported Nobunaga and had sworn to follow him to the very end.

If a disinterested third party were to look at the twenty-year alliance between the two men and to judge who had gained and who had lost, he would most likely have to say that both men had benefited. Without Ieyasu's friendship when he was young and beginning to set the direction of his life, Nobunaga would not have been in Azuchi. And if Ieyasu had never received Nobunaga's assistance, the weak and small province of Mikawa very likely would not have been able to withstand the pressures from its neighbors.

Aside from having bonds of friendship and self-interest, the two men had characters that were clearly complementary. Nobunaga had ambitions—and the will to realize them—the likes of which a prudent man like Ieyasu could not even imagine. Ieyasu, Nobunaga was the first to admit, had virtues that he himself lacked: patience, modesty, and frugality.  Nor did Ieyasu seem to be ambitious for himself. He looked after the interests of his own province but never gave his ally cause for concern. He always stood his ground against their common enemies, a silent fortress at Nobunaga's rear.

In other words, Mikawa was an ideal ally, and Ieyasu a reliable friend. In looking back over the hardships and dangers they had faced over the past twenty years, Nobunaga was moved to call Ieyasu his "good old comrade," and praised him as the man who had done the most to make Azuchi a reality.

During the feast, Ieyasu expressed his heartfelt gratitude for Nobunaga's treatment, but periodically he felt that someone was missing, and finally he asked Nobunaga, "Wasn't Lord Mitsuhide in charge of the banquet? What's happened to him? I haven't seen him at all today, and I didn't see him at the Noh performance yesterday."

"Ah, Mitsuhide," Nobunaga answered. "He returned to Sakamoto Castle. He had to leave so quickly that he had no time to pay his respects." Nobunaga's answer was delivered in a voice that was refreshing and clear, and he showed no particular emotion as he spoke.

But Ieyasu was a little concerned. There were disturbing rumors spreading in the town. Nobunaga's brief and untroubled answer, however, seemed to belie the rumors, and Ieyasu let the matter drop.

Nevertheless, that night Ieyasu returned to his lodgings and listened to the stories that his retainers had heard about Mitsuhide's departure. And he could see that the situation was complicated enough not to be ignored. Listening to the different versions of the story, he pieced together what seemed to be the reason behind Mitsuhide's sudden departure.

It had happened on the day of Ieyasu's arrival. Without previous notice, Nobunaga had made an official inspection of the kitchens. It was the rainy season; Azuchi was hot and muggy. The smell of raw fish and preserved vegetables offended the senses. Not only that, but the foodstuffs that had been collected in great quantities from Sakai and Kyoto had been unpacked and piled up in terrible disarray. Flies swarmed over the food and on Nobunaga's face.

"This place stinks!" he growled angrily. Then, as he walked into the preparation room he continued, speaking to no one in particular, "What is this? All this dirt! All this waste! Are you going to cook for our honored guest in this stinking place? Are you going to serve him rotten fish? Throw all this stuff away!"

Nobunaga's anger was completely unexpected, and the kitchen officials flung themselves at his feet. It was a pitiful scene. Mitsuhide had done his best to purchase the finest ingredients and to have exquisite dishes prepared, going almost without sleep for several days, supervising his retainers and the kitchen workers. Now he could hardly believe his ears. He ran out in surprise and prostrated himself before his lord, explaining that the of­fensive smell was most certainly not caused by rotten fish.

"Don't give me any excuses!" Nobunaga interrupted. "Throw everything away! Get something else for tonight's banquet!"

Turning a deaf ear, Nobunaga walked away.

Mitsuhide sat silently for a while, almost as though he had lost the power to move his legs. At that point a messenger arrived and handed him a letter ordering him to collect his forces and leave immediately for the western provinces.

The Akechi retainers carried the many delicacies they had prepared for Ieyasu through the back gate and dumped them into the moat, exactly as they might have thrown out trash or a dead dog or cat. Silently, suppressing their tears, they poured their feelings into the black waters.

At night the frogs croaked loudly outside Mitsuhide's lodgings. What are you brooding over? the frogs seemed to ask. Were they crying in sympathy for him, or laughing at his stupidity? It depended on how one listened to them.

Mitsuhide had ordered that no one be let in, and now he sat alone in a large, empty room.

Though it was only the beginning of summer, a cooling, delicate breeze blew silently into the gloom. Mitsuhide was terribly pale. It seemed that the hair of his sidelocks stood straight up each time the candle flickered. His anguish could be seen in the disarray of his hair and in the dreadful color of his face.

Finally he slowly raised what Nobunaga had dubbed his "kumquat head" and looked out into the darkened garden. In the distance he saw a great number of lamps shining between the trees. It was the first night of the banquet in the castle.

Should I go like this, just as I was ordered? Mitsuhide asked himself. Or would it be better to go and pay my respects at the castle once before leaving? Mitsuhide had always been confused by such things. His ordinarily clear head was so tired at that point that he had to think hard in order not to make a mistake.

Having made this question into such a great issue, no matter how he long he considered the matter, he was at a complete loss about what to do. Most of the pain of confronting his difficulties welled up in an unconscious sigh of grief and he wondered: Are there other men in this world so difficult to understand? he wondered. What can a person do to suit my lord's temperament? He's so hard to please.

If he had been able to put aside the absolute nature of the lord-and-retainer relationship and speak honestly, he would have criticized Nobunaga. Mitsuhide had been endowed with critical faculties far beyond the common man's, and it was only because Nobunaga was his lord that he was cautious and, in fact, afraid of his own criticism.

"Tsumaki! Tsumaki!" Mitsuhide called, suddenly looking at the sliding doors on either side of him. "Dengo? Dengo, are you there?"

But the man who finally opened the door and bowed in front of him was neither Dengo nor Tsumaki. It was one of his personal attendants, Yomoda Masataka.

"Both men are busy with the disposal of the material we were going to use for the banquet and with the sudden preparations for our departure."

"Come with me to the castle."

"The castle? You're going to the castle?"

"I think it's proper to pay my respects to Lord Nobunaga once before we depart.  Make the preparations."

Mitsuhide quickly got up to dress himself. He seemed to be spurring himself on before his resolution faded.

Masataka looked flustered. "This evening when I asked what you wanted to do, I thought you might want to go up to the castle, for just that reason. But we had no time, with His Lordship's sudden command. And you said then that we would leave without paying our respects to either Lord Nobunaga or Lord Ieyasu. Now, all the attendants and servants are engaged in cleaning up. May I ask you to wait for a little while?"

"No, no. I don't need many attendants. You'll be enough. Bring my horse."

Mitsuhide went out toward the entrance. There was not one retainer in the rooms he passed on his way. Only two or three pages followed behind him. But once he stepped outside, he could see small groups of retainers with their heads together, talking in the shadows of the trees and in the stables. Quite naturally, all the Akechi retainers were concerned about suddenly being dismissed as officials of the banquet and being ordered on the very same day to set out for the west.

Back and forth they expressed their resentment, their eyes filled with tears of grief. Their antagonism and anger toward Nobunaga, which had been intensifying since the Kai campaign, like oil poured on firewood, had been ignited by this latest incident.

At the camp in Suwa during the Kai campaign, Mitsuhide had already met with an unbearable public humiliation, an event that had not been hidden from his retainers. Why had Nobunaga been tormenting their master so much recently?

But today's shock was by far the worst, because the incident would be known to all the guests: Lord Ieyasu and his retainers, the nobility from Kyoto, and Mitsuhide's fellow Oda generals. To have suffered an insult here was the same as having one's shame exposed to the entire nation.

Such public humiliation was unbearable to anyone born a samurai.

"Your horse, my lord," Masataka said.

The retainers had still not noticed the attendant leading Mitsuhide's horse. Distracted by the events of the day, they still stood in small groups, discussing the matter.

Just as Mitsuhide was about to leave, someone dismounted in front of the gate. It was a messenger from Nobunaga.

"Lord Mitsuhide, are you leaving?" the man inquired.

"Not yet. I thought I would go to the castle once more, pay my respects to His Lord­ship and Lord Ieyasu, and leave."

"Lord Nobunaga was worried that you might consider doing that, and sent me here so that you wouldn't have to go to the castle in the middle of your haste to depart."

"What? Yet another message?" Mitsuhide said. He immediately went back inside, sat down, and listened respectfully to his lord's wishes.

The order for you to be dismissed from today's function and take your leave still stands as before, but there are further instructions concerning your departure as the vanguard to the western provinces. The Akechi forces are to march from Tajima into Inaba. You may enter Mori Terumoto's provinces at will. Do not be careless, and do not allow time to pass. You should return to Tamba at once, prepare your troops, and protect Hideyoshi's flank along the Sanin Road. I myself will soon head west­ward as a rear guard. Do not waste time and possibly cause us to miss this strategic opportunity.

Mitsuhide prostrated himself and responded that he would follow the instructions to the letter. Then, perhaps feeling that he had shown too much servility, he sat up, looked directly at the messenger, and said, "Please speak to His Lordship as you see fit."

Mitsuhide walked to the entrance to see the man off. With each step, his senses were set on edge by the wind that wafted through the almost empty building.

Until a few years ago, when I was given leave to return home, he always wanted me to see him once before I left, even if it was the middle of the night. How many times had

Nobunaga said, Come by for a bowl of tea, or If you're leaving in the morning, come by before dawn. Why has he come to despise me like this? He's even sent a messenger so he won't have to see me in person.

Don't even think. Don't even consider it. The more he made an effort not to, the more he grumbled and the more his heart was flooded by a silent monologue. The words were like bubbles rising up through fetid water.

"Does anyone see these flowers? They're useless too!"

Mitsuhide reached out for the large vase in the alcove and shook the flowers that had been beautifully arranged. As he carried the vase to the veranda, the water spilled noisily onto the floor. "Let's get out of here! It's time to leave! Are you ready?" he shouted to his retainers. Mitsuhide raised the vase over his head, aimed at a wide stepping stone, and threw it with all his might. It exploded amid a spray of water with a comforting sound, and water flew back onto Mitsuhide's face and chest. Mitsuhide turned his soaked face up ward the empty sky and laughed out loud. He laughed completely alone.

It was late at night, and as the fog settled in, the air became hot and humid. His retainers had finished packing and stood in ranks in front of the gate. The horses neighed under the low rain clouds in the sky.

"Has rain gear been prepared?" a retainer asked, looking inside the gate again.

"There's not a bit of starlight tonight, and if it starts to rain, the roads are going to become difficult. We'd better prepare a few extra torches," another yelled.

Every samurai's face was as gloomy as the night sky. Eyes were filled with anger, tears, bitterness, or sullen discontent. Very soon, Mitsuhide's voice could be heard as he rode away from the entrance with a group of mounted men.

"Sakamoto is almost within view," he said. "We should arrive there soon, even if it does rain."

Hearing the unusually cheerful voice of their lord, his retainers felt surprise more than anything else.

Earlier that evening, Mitsuhide had complained of a slight fever and had taken medicine, and now his attendants were anxious about the possibility of rain. He had responded to their concern in a voice purposefully loud enough for the men standing both inside and outside the gate to hear.

When Mitsuhide was announced, fire was passed from torch to torch until the number of lights seemed almost to multiply infinitely. Then, with flames held aloft, the retainers walked out one after another, following the vanguard.

After they had traveled about half a league, rain began to fall, the drops splashing the flames of the torches.

"It seems the guests in the castle still haven't gone to bed. Perhaps they're going to stay up all night."

Mitsuhide did not notice the rain. As he turned in his saddle and looked back toward the lake, the huge donjon of Azuchi Castle seemed to soar into a sky that was as black as ink. He imagined that the golden dolphins that adorned the roof sparkled brighter on this rainy night, glaring out into the darkness. Reflected in the lake, the sea of lights in the many-storied building seemed to shiver with cold.

"My lord, my lord! You shouldn't catch cold!" Fujita Dengo said with concern as he drew his horse up to Mitsuhide's and put a straw raincoat across his shoulders.

That morning the shore of Lake Biwa was once again lost in the mist, perhaps be­cause the sky had not yet settled from the early summer rains. With the lapping waves and the mist that was indistinguishable from rain, the world appeared to be pure white.

The road was extraordinarily muddy, and the horses were spattered all the way up to their ears. Silently defying the previous night's rain and the condition of the road, the en­tire army tramped desolately toward Sakamoto. To the right was the lakeshore, to the left, Mount Hiei. As the wind blew down the mountain, it. stiffened the straw raincoats the men were wearing and made them look like bristling hedgehogs.

"Ah, look over there, my lord. Lord Mitsuharu has come to greet you," Masataka said to Mitsuhide.

The castle on the lakeshore—Sakamoto Castle—was directly ahead. Mitsuhide nod­ded slightly, as though he had already noticed. Although Sakamoto was almost close enough to Azuchi for him to be able to turn around and see it, Mitsuhide looked as if he had walked a thousand leagues. As he stood in front of the castle commanded by his cousin, Akechi Mitsuharu, he felt exactly as though he had escaped from the tiger's den.

His attendants, however, were far more worried about Mitsuhide's periodic cough­ing than they were about what might have been on his mind, and they expressed their concern.

"You've been traveling all night in the rain with this cold, and you must be exhausted. Once you've gone inside the castle, you should waste no time in getting yourself warm and going to bed."

"Yes, I probably should."

Mitsuhide was truly a gentle lord. He listened intently to his retainers' advice and understood their anxiety. When they arrived at the pine grove in front of the gate, Dengo took the reins of Mitsuhide's horse and stood next to the saddle, ready to help his master dismount.

On the bridge across the moat, a line of Mitsuharu's retainers had drawn up. One of the retainers opened an umbrella and offered it deferentially. Masataka took the umbrella and held it over Mitsuhide's head.

Mitsuhide walked across the bridge. Looking down through the railing, he could see white water birds swimming around the pilings like scattered flowers over the blue-green water.

Mitsuharu, who had come out to welcome his cousin, now stepped out a few paces from the line of soldiers and bowed respectfully.

“We've been waiting for you since dawn," he said, leading Mitsuhide through the entrance. The ten or so principal retainers attached to Mitsuhide washed their muddy hands and feet, stacked their wet straw raincoats in a pile, and went into the citadel.

The other retainers stayed outside the moat, washing the horses and taking care of the baggage, while waiting to be told where their lodgings would be. The neighing of horses and the din of human voices could be heard far off in the distance.

Mitsuhide had changed out of his traveling clothes. He felt so relaxed in Mitsuharu's quarters that they could have been his own. He had a view of the lake and Mount Hiei from every room. The inner citadel was situated in an area that had once had the most picturesque scenery, but no one could appreciate that scenery now. Since Nobunaga had given the command for Mount Hiei to be destroyed by fire, the monasteries and temples had become mounds of ashes. The village houses at the foot of the mountain had only recently begun to be rebuilt.

The ruins of the castle at Mount Usa, where Mori Ranmaru's father had met his end, were also close by, as was the battlefield where the soldiers of the Asai and Asakura clans had grappled with the Oda, only to have their corpses piled high. When one thought about these ruins and past battles, one realized that the beauty of the scenery echoed with the wailing of ghosts. Mitsuhide sat listening to the sound of the early summer rains and remembering.

Meanwhile, Mitsuharu was in a small tearoom, watching the fire in the hearth and listening to the genial sound of the water boiling in a teakettle made by the master caster Yojiro. At that moment he was completely immersed in the art of tea.

From the time of Mitsuharu's adolescence, he and Mitsuhide had been brought up as brothers, sharing the suffering of the battlefield and the happiness of home life. And, rather than becoming estranged, as brothers tend to do after they grow up, their relationship continued to be a close one.

Their characters, however, would never be the same. So on this morning the two men quickly went to separate quarters in the castle, each assuming the lifestyle that his own heart dictated.

Well, I imagine he's already changed his clothes, Mitsuharu said to himself. He stood up from his place before the teakettle. Crossing the wet veranda, he went over the bridged corridor into the suite of rooms assigned to his cousin. He could hear Mitsuhide's close attendants in another room, but Mitsuhide was alone, sitting bolt upright and staring out over the lake.

"I'd like to offer you some tea," Mitsuharu said.

Mitsuhide turned toward his cousin and murmured, "Tea…" as though he were waking from a dream.

"A piece I had ordered from Yojiro in Kyoto has recently been delivered. It doesn't have the elegant patterns of an Ashiya kettle, but it has a rustic charm that pleases the eye. They say that new teakettles are no good, but as you'd expect of Yojiro, the water that comes from his kettles tastes just as good as the water that comes from the old ones. I had intended to serve you tea with it the next time you were here, and when I was informed this morning that you were suddenly returning from Azuchi, I immediately lit a fire in the hearth."

"That was kind of you, Mitsuharu, but I don't want any tea."

"Well, what about after your bath?"

"You won't need to prepare a bath either. Please just let me sleep a little. That's all I want"

Mitsuharu had heard a great many stories recently, so he was not completely blind to Mitsuhide's thoughts. Nevertheless, he did have some particular doubts about why his cousin had returned to Sakamoto so suddenly. It was hardly a secret that Mitsuhide had

been given the responsibility of organizing the banquet Nobunaga was holding to welcome Ieyasu. Why had Mitsuhide been so suddenly dismissed just before the banquet? Ieyasu was certainly in Azuchi. Nevertheless, Mitsuhide's post had been given to someone else, and Mitsuhide himself had been ordered to leave.

Mitsuharu had not yet heard any details, but from the time he had been told of the events in Azuchi to the moment he saw Mitsuhide's face, he had come to understand that something had happened to upset Lord Nobunaga. Mitsuharu secretly grieved for his cousin.

And just as Mitsuharu had feared, ever since he had welcomed him at the castle that morning, Mitsuhide's appearance had not been encouraging. Seeing a grave shadow on his cousin's brow, however, was not such a surprise for Mitsuharu. He believed that there was no one who understood Mitsuhide's character as well as he did, because of their shared past.

"Yes, that makes sense. You spent the entire night coming from Azuchi on horseback. We're now in our fifties, and can't treat our bodies the way we could when we were young. Well, you should sleep for a while. Everything is prepared."

Mitsuharu did not force the issue or try to oppose his cousin's will. Mitsuhide got up and went inside the mosquito netting while the morning light still played across its threads.

*    *    *

Amano Genemon, Fujita Dengo, and Yomoda Masataka were waiting for Mitsuharu as he left Mitsuhide's room. The three men bowed.

"Excuse me, my lord," Dengo said. "We're very sorry to disturb you, but we wondered if we might have a word with you. It's a matter of some importance." Dengo was not speaking in his ordinary tone of voice.

Mitsuharu himself responded as though he had been expecting them. "Why don't we all go to the teahouse? Lord Mitsuhide has gone to sleep, and I was just thinking it would be a shame to waste the fire under the kettle."

"If we go to the teahouse, we won't have to keep people at a distance. That's an excellent idea."

"Let me show you the way."

"I'm afraid the three of us are provincials, so we don't understand much about tea and we certainly weren't prepared to receive such an honor from you today."

"Don't think of it that way. I understand a little of what you are worried about, and for that reason alone the teahouse should be a good place to talk."

They sat down in the thin light coming through the translucent paper doors of the small teahouse. The water in the kettle had been boiling for some time, and now it bub­bled with an even more congenial sound than before. Mitsuharu had shown his martial spirit on the battlefield many times, but here, in front of the hearth, he seemed to be a completely different person.

"Well, let's not bother with tea. What's on your minds?"

Thus encouraged, the three men looked resolutely back and forth at each other.

Finally Dengo, the man among them who seemed to have the most courage, said, "Lord Mitsuharu, this is mortifying…I can hardly bring myself to speak of it…." He raised his right sleeve to hide his tears.

The other two didn't cry, but they could not hide their swollen eyelids.

"Has something happened?" Mitsuharu was completely calm, and the three men quickly recovered. It was as though they had expected to be confronting fire but were seeing only water. Mitsuharu noticed their swollen eyes, but he himself was unmoved.

"The fact is," Mitsuharu continued, "I, too, am worried that this unexpected return means that Lord Nobunaga has been somehow offended. Why was Lord Mitsuhide dismissed from his duties at the banquet?"

The first to answer was Dengo. "Lord Mitsuhide is our master, but we are not blind to crime and our reasoning is not prejudiced, so we are not just going to rattle on with resentment about Lord Nobunaga without cause. We took great care to try to understand Lord Nobunaga's motives this time, both in terms of the circumstances of Lord Mitsuhide's dismissal, and why he was blamed. The case is exceedingly strange."

Dengo's throat was so dry that he could not go on. Yomoda Masataka came to his rescue and continued the story.

"We even tried to find relief by speculating there was some political motive, but no matter how we look at it, there is nothing we can really put together. The overall plan should have been clear in Lord Nobunaga's mind for some time now. So why would he dismiss the man to whom he had given the responsibility of organizing the banquet and grant the honor to someone else on the very day of the banquet? It almost seems to be a display of disunity intentionally put on for his guest, Lord Ieyasu."

Genemon went on, "When I look at the situation as my companions have already described it, I can only think of one reason for it, which is really no reason at all. For the last several years Lord Nobunaga's persistent enmity has caused him to view with hostility everything that Lord Mitsuhide does. His dislike has finally become frank and undisguised, and things have come to this point."

The three men stopped talking. There was a mountain of incidents they would have yet liked to describe. For example, at the camp in Suwa during the invasion of Kai, Nobunaga had pushed Mitsuhide's face down on the wooden floor of the corridor, calling him “Kumquat Head," and ordering him to leave. Thus he had been insulted in front of everyone, and there had been numerous times that he had been embarrassed in the same way at Azuchi. These incidents, each of which would take forever to recount, demonstrated Nobunaga's hostility toward Mitsuhide and had become the subject of gossip among the retainers of other clans. Mitsuharu was of the same flesh and blood as Mitsuhide, and because of his close kinship, he was naturally aware that those events that had occurred.

Mitsuharu had listened to everything without the least change of expression. "Well then, Lord Mitsuhide was dismissed for no particular reason? I'm relieved to hear that. Other clans have earned Lord Nobunaga's favor or disfavor, depending on his mood."

The expressions on the three men's faces suddenly changed. The muscles around Dengo's lips twitched, and he abruptly drew up closer to Mitsuharu.

“What do you mean, you're relieved?"

"Do I have to repeat myself? The blame is not with Lord Mitsuhide, so if this has happened because Lord Nobunaga was out of sorts, Lord Mitsuhide should be able to re­pair the unhappy situation when Lord Nobunaga is in a better mood."

Dengo was speaking more and more excitedly. "Aren't you viewing Lord Mitsuhide as an entertainer who has to ingratiate himself for the sake of his lord's mood? Is this the way one should think of Lord Akechi Mitsuhide? Don't you think he's been humiliated, insulted, and pressed to the brink of self-destruction?"

"Dengo, the veins in your temples are getting a little swollen. Calm down."

"I haven't been able to sleep for two nights. I can't just remain calm like you, my lord. My master and his retainers have been scorched in a boiling pot of injustice, ridicule, insults, and every kind of vexation."

"That's why I've asked you to calm yourself and try to get some sleep for two or three nights."

"That's absurd!" Dengo exclaimed. "It's said of samurai that the shame of once being covered with mud is difficult to wipe away. How many times have my lord and his re­tainers endured such shame on account of this vicious lord in Azuchi? And yesterday it wasn't just a matter of Lord Mitsuhide's role in the banquet being taken away. The order that came right after that made the entire Akechi clan look like dogs chasing wild boar or deer. Perhaps you've heard that we are to mobilize immediately for a departure to the west. We're supposed to attack the Mori's provinces in the Sanin to protect Lord Hideyoshi's flank. How can we go to the battlefield feeling the way we do? This situation is an­other example of the scheming of that vicious dog of a lord!"

"Restrain yourself! Whom are you referring to as a vicious dog?"

"Lord Nobunaga, the same man who constantly calls our lord 'Kumquat Head' in front of others. Look at men like Hayashi Sado, or Sakuma Nobumori and his son. For years they helped make Nobunaga as great as he is today. Then, almost immediately after they were rewarded with status and a castle, they were arrested for some trivial crime and either condemned to death or driven into exile. The final act of that vicious lord is always to chase someone away."

"Silence! You are not to speak so disrespectfully of Lord Nobunaga! Get out! Now!"

As Mitsuharu finally became angry and reprimanded the man, something could be faintly heard in the garden. It was difficult to tell whether it was a man approaching, or only the falling of autumn leaves.

Extreme care was taken day and night against the possibility of espionage, even in places where the enemy's presence was highly improbable. Thus even in the teahouse gar­den, there were samurai standing guard. Now one of the guards had come up to the teahouse and was bowing in front of the door. After handing a letter to Mitsuharu, he drew back a little and waited as motionless as a stone.

Soon Mitsuharu's voice could be heard from inside. "This will require an answer, and I will write one later. Have the monk wait."

The guard bowed politely toward the entrance and walked back to his post. His straw sandals made almost no sound on the path in the manner of someone slinking away.

For a while, Mitsuharu and the other three men sat in complete silence, enveloped in an excruciatingly icy atmosphere. From time to time, a ripe plum fell to the ground with a sound like a wooden hammer striking the earth. That sound was the only thing that relieved the silence. Suddenly a bright ray of sunlight struck the paper panels of the sliding door.

"Well, we should take our leave. You have some urgent business to attend to," Masataka said, taking the opportunity to withdraw, but Mitsuharu, who had unrolled the letter and read it in front of the three men, now rolled the letter up.

"Why don't you stay awhile?" he asked, smiling.

"No, we'll take our leave. We don't want to intrude any further."

After the three men had shut the sliding door tightly behind them, their footsteps disappeared in the direction of the bridged corridor, and they sounded as if they were walking across thin ice.

A few moments later Mitsuharu left as well. He called into the samurai quarters as he walked down the corridor. Mitsuharu immediately asked for writing paper and a brush, and fluidly set the brush to the paper as though he already had in mind what he was going to write.

"Take this to the Abbot of Yokawa's messenger and send him back."

He handed the letter to one of his attendants and, appearing to have no further in­terest in the matter, asked a page, "Is Lord Mitsuhide still sleeping?"

"When I checked, his room was very quiet," the page replied.

When he heard this, Mitsuharu's eyes brightened as though he too were really at peace for the first time that day.

The days passed. Mitsuhide spent the time in Sakamoto Castle, doing nothing. He had already received Nobunaga's command to depart for the western provinces, and should have returned as quickly as possible to his own castle to mobilize his retainers.  Mitsuharu would have liked to tell him that spending such a long time in idleness was not going to be good for his reputation in Azuchi. When he thought about Mitsuhide's feelings, however, he was unable to speak out. The discontent that Dengo and Masataka had expressed so bitterly would naturally be in Mitsuhide's heart as well.

If that was so, Mitsuharu thought, a few days of peace and quiet would be the best preparation for the forthcoming campaign. Mitsuharu had complete faith in his cousin's intelligence and common sense. Wondering how Mitsuhide was passing the time, Mitsuharu visited his room. Mitsuhide was painting, copying from an open book.

"Well, what are you doing?" Mitsuharu stood at his side and watched, pleased at Mitsuhide's composure and happy that they could share something.

"Mitsuharu? Don't look. I still can't paint in front of others."

Mitsuhide put down the brush and displayed a bashfulness not often seen in men over fifty. He was so embarrassed that he hid the sketches he had discarded.

"Am I disturbing you?" Mitsuharu laughed. "Who painted the book you're using as a model?"

"It's one of Yusho's."

"Yusho? What's that fellow doing these days? We don't hear anything at all about him around here."

"He unexpectedly visited my camp one evening in Kai. He left the following morning before dawn."

"He's a strange fellow."

"No, I don't think he can be summed up simply as strange. He's a loyal man, and his heart is as upright as bamboo. He may have given up being a samurai, but he still seems like a warrior to me."

"I've heard he was a retainer of Saito Tatsuoki. Are you praising him because he remains faithful to his former lord even today?"

"During the construction of Azuchi, he was the only one who refused to participate, even though he was invited to do so by Lord Nobunaga himself. He won't bend for either fame or power. It seems that he had more self-respect than to paint for the enemy of his former lord."

Just then, one of Mitsuharu's retainers came in and knelt behind them, and the two men stopped talking. Mitsuharu turned and asked the man what his business was.

The samurai looked embarrassed. In his hand was a letter and what seemed to be a petition written on thick paper. As he spoke, he was obviously worried about Mitsuharu's reaction. "Another messenger from the Abbot of Yokawa has come to the castle gate, and he pressed me to deliver this letter once more to the lord of the castle. I refused, but he said he had come on orders and would not go away. What should I do?"

"What? Again?" Mitsuharu lightly clicked his tongue. "I sent a letter to the Abbot of Yokawa some time ago, carefully explaining to him that I could not possibly agree to the contents of his petition, so that it was useless for him to ask. Still he persisted, sending me letters two or three times after that. He's certainly headstrong. Just refuse to take it and sent him off."

"Yes, my lord."

With that, the messenger hurried off with the petition still in his hand. He looked as though he himself had been reprimanded.

As soon as the man had left, Mitsuhide spoke to his cousin.

"Would that be the Abbot of Yokawa from Mount Hiei?"

"That's right."

"Years ago, I was ordered to take part in the burning of Mount Hiei. We then made war not only on the warrior-monks, but also on the holy men, and on women and children—without distinction—cutting them down and tossing their bodies into the flames. We so utterly destroyed that mountain that trees could not have been expected to thrive there again, much less men. And now it seems that the priests who survived the massacre have gone back and are trying to make the place live again."

"That's right. From what I've heard, the mountaintop is just as desolate and ruined as it was before, but men of profound learning are calling together the scattered remnants of the believers and using every means possible to restore the mountain."

"That will be difficult while Lord Nobunaga is alive."

"And they're well aware of that. They've turned a great deal of their energy toward the Court, trying to get an edict from the Emperor to persuade Lord Nobunaga, but the prospects are dim, so recently they've looked for support from the common peo­ple. They're roaming every province, seeking contributions, knocking on every door, and I've heard that they're even constructing temporary shrines on the sites of the old temples."

"Well then, the errand of the messenger who was sent to you two or three times by the Abbot of Yokawa had something to do with that petition?"

"No." Mitsuharu quickly shifted his eyes and gazed peacefully into Mitsuhide's face. "The fact is that I thought it was something I needn't trouble you with, so I turned him down myself. Since you're asking me about it now, however, perhaps I should go over it with you. The Abbot of Yokawa knew that you would be staying here, and he wanted to have an audience with you at least once."

"The abbot said that he wanted to meet me?"

"Yes, and he also requested in his petition to have the respected name of Lord Mitsuhide on the subscription list for the restoration of Mount Hiei. I told him that both requests were absolutely out of the question."

"And even though you told him it was out of the question, and refused and then refused again, he still sent messengers to the castle three or four more times? Mitsuharu, I would be apprehensive about signing my name to the subscription list out of deference to Lord Nobunaga, but I wonder if I need to hesitate just to meet him."

"I think it's totally unnecessary for you to meet him," Mitsuharu said. "What purpose today would there be for you—who acted as a general at the destruction of Mount Hiei— to meet with a priest who survived that destruction?"

"He was an enemy at that time," Mitsuhide replied. "But now Mount Hiei has been made completely impotent, and the people there have prostrated themselves and pledged their allegiance to Azuchi."

"Certainly, in form. But how are the fellow priests and relatives of those who were massacred, and the monks whose ancient temples and monasteries were burned, going to forget the resentment that has lived in their hearts for so many years? The dead must have numbered ten thousand, and the buildings had been there since the time of Saint Dengyo."

Mitsuhide let out a long sigh. "There was no way I could avoid Nobunaga's orders, and I too became one of those insane arsonists on Mount Hiei that year. I stabbed to death both the warrior-monks and numberless unfortunate monks and laymen, young and old. When I think of that today, my breast is tortured just as though it were the burnning mountain itself."

"But you've always said that we should take the broad view, and it doesn't sound as though you're doing that now. You destroy one to save many. If we burn one mountain but make the Buddhist Law shine brightly on another five mountains and a hundred peaks, then I think that the killings we samurai commit cannot be called murders."

"Of course that's right. But out of sympathy, I can't restrain a tear for Mount Hiei. Mitsuharu! In public I must hold back, but as an ordinary man I feel that there could be no harm in saying a prayer for the mountain, could there? I'm going to go to the mountain incognito tomorrow. I'll come back right after meeting the abbot."

That night, Mitsuharu stayed awake worrying even after he had gone to bed. Why was Mitsuhide so taken by the idea of going to Mount Hiei? Should he, Mitsuharu, try to stop him, or would it be better to let him do what he wanted? Considering the position

Mitsuhide was in now, it would be better for him to have no connection whatsoever with the restoration of Mount Hiei. And it would not be advisable for him to meet with the abbot, either.

This much Mitsuharu could think through clearly, but why had Mitsuhide looked displeased at his arbitrary rejection of the abbot's messenger and his refusal of the petition? Fundamentally, he did not seem very happy with Mitsuharu's handling of the situation.

What sort of plan was Mitsuhide conceiving, with Mount Hiei as its center? Obviously Mitsuhide's visit would provide good material for slanderous assertions that he was plotting against Nobunaga. And it was certainly a waste of time, just before his departure for a campaign in the western provinces.

"I'm going to stop him. I'm going to stop him no matter what he says." Having made this decision, Mitsuharu finally closed his eyes. In a head-on confrontation he would most likely receive an unpleasant tongue-lashing from Mitsuhide or make him very angry but he was going to do his best to stop his cousin. So resolved, he went to sleep.

The next morning he got up earlier than usual, but as he was washing, he heard the rhythm of running feet hurrying down the main corridor to the entranceway. Mitsuharu called out and stopped one of the samurai.

"Who's leaving?"

"Lord Mitsuhide."

"What!"

"Yes, my lord. He's attired in light dress for the mountain and is accompanied only by Amano Genemon. They're planning to take their horses as far as Hiyoshi. Or that's what Lord Mitsuhide said as he was putting on his straw sandals at the entrance just now."

Mitsuharu never missed his morning prayers in front of the castle shrine and at the family altar, but this morning he neglected both. He dressed with both long and short swords and hurried toward the entrance. But Mitsuhide and his retainer had already gone, and only the attendants who had seen them off remained, looking toward the white clouds on Shimeigatake.

*  *  *

"It looks like the rainy season is ending here too."

The morning mist in the pine grove beyond the castle still had not cleared, and it made the surrounding area look almost like a scene at the bottom of the sea. The two mounted men hurried through the grove at a light gait. A large bird flew over them, flap­ping its wings majestically.

"The weather is fine, isn't it, Genemon?"

“If it stays like this, the mountain will be clear."

“I haven't felt this good in a long time," Mitsuhide said.

“That fact alone makes this trip worthwhile."

"I want to meet the Abbot of Yokawa more than anything else. That's my only busi­ness here."

“I daresay he will be surprised to see you."

"People would have been suspicious if I had invited him to Sakamoto Castle. I have to meet him in private. Make the arrangements, Genemon."

"People are more likely to see you at the foot of the mountain than on the mountain itself. It would be highly unpleasant if word got around to the villagers that Lord Mitsuhide was out on an excursion. You should wear your hood down over your face, at least as far as Hiyoshi."

Mitsuhide pulled his hood down, until only his mouth was visible.

"Your clothes are plain, and your saddle is just that of a common warrior's. No one will be likely to think that you are Lord Akechi Mitsuhide."

"If you treat me with that much courtesy, people will be suspicious immediately."

"I hadn't thought of that," Genemon said with a laugh. "I'll be a little more careful from now on, but don't blame me for being rude."

At the foot of Mount Hiei, rebuilding had been going on for two or three years, and the streets of Sakamoto were slowly taking on their former appearance. As the two riders passed through the village and turned off on the path going up to the Enryaku Temple, the morning sun finally began to sparkle on the waters of the lake.

"What shall we do with the horses once we dismount on the way up?" Genemon asked.

"A new shrine has been built on the site of the old one. There must be farmhouses nearby. If not, it should be all right to leave them with a workman at the shrine itself."

A lone rider was whipping his horse to catch up with them.

"Isn't that someone calling us from behind?" Genemon asked with some concern.

"If there's someone chasing us, I'm sure it's Mitsuharu. Yesterday he looked as though he wanted to stop me from making this trip."

"He possesses a gentility and sincerity you rarely see in men these days. He's almost too gentle to be a samurai."

"It is Mitsuharu, just as I thought."

"He certainly seems determined to stop you, my lord."

"Well, I won't turn back, no matter what he says. Maybe he's not going to try to stop me. If he wanted to do that, he'd have grabbed my horse's bridle at the castle gate. Look, he's dressed for a mountain excursion, too."

In the end, Mitsuharu had rethought his position before starting out. He felt that it would be best not to oppose Mitsuhide, but rather to come along with him for the day to nake sure he made no mistakes.

As he brought up his horse alongside of his cousin, he smiled brightly. "You're too fast for me, my lord. I was taken by surprise this morning, and not a little shaken up. I didn't think you would leave at such an early hour."

"I didn't think you were planning to come with me. You wouldn't have had to chase us like that if we'd made arrangements last night."

"I was negligent. Even if you are traveling in disguise, I thought that you would be accompanied by at least ten mounted men carrying along a picnic, and that you would be traveling at a more leisurely pace."

"I would have liked that if this had been a normal excursion," Mitsuhide said. "But the only purpose of today's trip is to pray for those who went through hellfire years ago and to hold at least one memorial service for their bones. I hadn't thought about carrying up fine sake and delicacies."

"I may have said something that offended you yesterday, but I'm just prudent by na­ture. It was really nothing more than my not wanting you to do something that might be taken the wrong way in Azuchi. Given the way you're dressed, and that your intention is to say a mass for the dead, I'm sure Lord Nobunaga couldn't blame you even if he were to hear about it. The fact is that even though I reside in a castle close to Sakamoto, I haven't made one trip to the mountain. So I thought that today would be a good opportunity to visit the place. Well, lead on, Genemon."

Spurring his horse, Mitsuharu rode up next to Mitsuhide and began to make conversation as though he were afraid Mitsuhide might become bored. He discussed the plants and flowers they saw along the roadside, explained the habits of the different birds as he distinguished them by their calls, and generally carried on with the solicitude of a kind woman trying to cheer up an sick person.

Mitsuhide could not reject such a display of true feelings, but Mitsuharu talked al­most exclusively about nature, while Mitsuhide's mind was immersed in human concerns whether he was asleep or awake or even holding a brush over a painting. He lived in human society, in the midst of contending demons and within the flames of wrath and malice. Even though the song of the cuckoo filled the mountain air, the hot blood that had risen to his temples during his retreat from Azuchi had not yet been calmed.

As Mitsuhide climbed Mount Hiei, his heart was not at peace even for a moment. How desolate the place looked, when contrasted with its former prosperity. Following the Gongen River up toward the Eastern Pagoda, the party saw no signs of human life. Only the birdsong hadn't changed. The mountain had been famous as a sanctuary for rare birds since ancient times.

"I don't see a single monk," Mitsuhide said as he stood in front of a ruined temple. He appeared to be surprised at Nobunaga's thoroughness. "Isn't there a single living soul on this mountain? Let's try the main temple."

He looked more than a little disappointed. Perhaps he had thought he would see the latent power of the warrior-monks come back to life on the mountain, in spite of Nobunaga's supremacy.

But when they finally arrived at the former location of the main temple and lecture hall, nothing remained but mounds of ashes. Only in the area of the monastery had a number of huts been erected. The scent of incense drifted from that direction, so Gen­emon went to investigate. He found four or five mountain hermits, sitting around a pot of rice gruel that was cooking over a fire.

"They say the Abbot of Yokawa isn't here," Genemon said.

"If the abbot is not there, is there not perhaps a scholar or elder from former times?"

Genemon inquired a second time, but his answer was not encouraging. "It seems there's no such person on the mountain. They're not allowed to come here without the permission of either Azuchi or the governor of Kyoto. Moreover, even now the law does not recognize any permanent residences on the mountain other than for a limited num­ber of monks."

"The law is the law," Mitsuhide said, "but religious zeal is not like a fire that can be doused with water and disappear forever. Come to think of it, the elders probably thought that we're warriors from Azuchi, and they probably hid. The abbot and the elders who survived are probably somewhere on the mountain right now. Genemon, explain to those men that they should have no such worries, and ask them once again."

As Genemon started to walk off, Mitsuharu said to Mitsuhide, "I'll go. They are not likely to tell us anything, with Genemon's stern way of asking questions."

While he was waiting for Mitsuharu, however, Mitsuhide unexpectedly encountered someone he hadn't planned on meeting at all.

The man was dressed in a greenish brown hood and a monk's robe of the same color and wore white leggings and straw sandals. He was over seventy years of age, but his lips were a youthful red. His eyebrows were pure white, and he looked like a crane dressed in a monk's robe. He was accompanied by two servants and a child.

"Lord Mitsuhide? Well, well, I never thought I'd meet you here, my lord. I heard that you were in Azuchi. What brings you to this deserted mountain today?"

He hardly spoke like an old man; his voice was exceptionally resonant, and his lips formed a constant, untroubled smile.

On the contrary, it was Mitsuhide who appeared to be confused. Distracted by the sharp eyes beneath the old man's clear brow, his response was hesitant.

"It's Doctor Manase, isn't it? I've been staying at Sakamoto Castle for a few days, and thought a little walk through the mountains might cheer me up from the gloom of the rainy season."

"There's no better medicine for the body or the mind than an occasional cleansing of the ch'i by walking through the hills and getting in touch with nature. At a a glance, I'd say you've been tired for some time. Are you returning to your home province on sick leave?" the doctor asked, narrowing his eyes to the size of needles. For some reason Mitsuhide found it impossible to deceive a man who had eyes like that. Manase had been practicing medicine at the time Yoshiaki's father, Yoshiteru, was shogun. The two men had not met for quite a while, but Mitsuhide had sat in the company of the great doctor a number of times at Azuchi Castle. Nobunaga had often invited Manase to be his guest at tea ceremonies, and whenever he was sick, he would call him immediately. He had more confidence in this man than in his own physicians.

By nature, however, Manase did not enjoy being employed by the powerful and, as he lived in Kyoto, traveling to Azuchi was a chore, despite his robust health.

At that point Mitsuharu returned without having gone to the hut, as Genemon had quickly run to call him back.

"We've bumped into someone, and it's an awkward situation," Genemon whispered to him as they walked back. But when Mitsuharu saw that it was Manase, he happily joined the conversation, indicating clearly that he had long been on friendly terms with he doctor.

"What a treat! It's Doctor Manase. You always look healthier than a man in his prime. Did you climb up from Kyoto today? Off on a mountain excursion?"

Manase enjoyed conversation and was happy to run into friends on the mountain.

"I climb Mount Hiei every year in the spring or early summer and again in the fall,.  But you know, there must be a lot of herbs that we haven't discovered yet right here."

As Manase talked, he did not seem to be paying particular attention to Mitsuhide, though he had been casting his doctor's eye over the man from time to time. Eventually he turned the subject to Mitsuhide's health.

"I've heard from Lord Mitsuharu that you'll soon be leaving to take part in the campaign in the west. Be sure to take good care of your health. When a man passes fifty, it's difficult to deny his age, no matter how strong he may be."

There was a concern in his advice that went beyond the words.

"Is that so?" Mitsuhide smiled and responded to Manase's advice as though they were discussing someone else's health. "Recently I've felt as though I've had a bit of a cold, but I've got a strong constitution and haven't really considered myself to be ill."

"Well, I wouldn't be so sure. It's all very fine when a sick man is conscious of his own illness and takes the proper precautions. But when a man is overconfident, as you are, he can fall quite gravely into error."

"Well then, do you think I am suffering from some chronic condition?"

"I can see, just by looking at your complexion and listening to your voice, that you're not in your usual state of health. Rather than saying that you are suffering from a chronic disease, I would suggest that your internal organs may have become fatigued, and that the subtle energies associated with them are out of balance."

"If you're just saying I'm fatigued, I'll certainly agree to that. From taking part in various battles over the past few years and from serving my lord, I've pushed my body beyond its limits time and again."

"Speaking about something like this to someone as knowledgeable as you is probably like teaching the Dharma to the Buddha, but you really should take care of your health. The five internal organs—the liver, heart, spleen, lungs, and kidneys—are manifested in the five aspirations, the five energies, and the five sounds. For example, if the liver is ill, you'll have copious tears; if the heart is injured, you'll be beset by fears, no matter how brave you are ordinarily; if the spleen is distressed, you'll be easily angered; if the lungs an not functioning properly, you'll go through mental agony and not have the psychological strength to understand why. And if your kidneys are weak, you'll have strong swings of mood."

Manase gazed steadily at Mitsuhide's complexion. For his part, Mitsuhide was confident of his own health and did not intend to listen to what Manase was going to say. He did his best to conceal what he felt behind a forced smile but was beginning to fee ill-humored and uneasy. Finally, his patience worn thin, he appeared to be waiting for an opportunity to get away from the old man.

Manase, however, was not going to stop what he had to say halfway through. Understanding exactly what the look in Mitsuhide's eyes meant, he continued to lecture him.

"What I noticed from the moment I met you was the color of your skin. You seen to be either very afraid or worried about something. You repress the anger in your eyes, but I can see that they are filled not only with the anger of a man but also with the tears of a woman. Haven't you recently felt a chill at night that goes all the way to the tips of your fingers and toes? What about a ringing in your ears? Or dried-up saliva and a taste in your mouth as though you've been chewing thorns? Do you have any of those symptoms?"

"There have been nights when I could not sleep, but last night I slept fine. Well, I certainly appreciate your concern, doctor, and during the campaign I'll take extra care about medicine and food." Taking this opportunity, Mitsuhide signaled to Genemon and Mitsuharu that it was time to go.

*  *  *

That day the Akechi retainer Shinshi Sakuzaemon belatedly left Azuchi for Sakamoto Castle, accompanied by a small party of men. His lord, Mitsuhide, had left in such haste that Shinshi had stayed behind to take care of unfinished business.

As soon as he had taken off his travel clothes, several men crowded around him in his room and questioned him.

"What was the situation like afterward?"

"What kind of rumors spread around Azuchi after His Lordship left?"

Shinshi spoke, gritting his teeth. "It's only been eight days since His Lordship left Azuchi, but for the men who receive their stipends from the Akechi clan, it's been like sitting on a bed of nails for three years. Every servant and commoner in Azuchi has walked by the empty banquet hall and yelled insults. 'Is this Lord Mitsuhide's empty mansion? No wonder it smells like rotten fish. With this kind of bad luck and disgrace, the light shining on that Kumquat Head is going to fade right away.'"

"No one criticized Lord Nobunaga's actions as unreasonable or unfair?"

"There must be some retainers who understand. What are they saying?"

"During the days after His Lordship's departure, the banquet was being held for Lord Ieyasu, so Azuchi Castle was involved in that and nothing else. Perhaps Lord Ieyasu thought it strange that the official in charge of the banquet had suddenly been changed, and I've heard that he asked Lord Nobunaga why Lord Mitsuhide had suddenly disappeared. Lord Nobunaga only replied nonchalantly that he had had him return to his home province."

Everyone who heard this report bit his lip. Shinshi went on to tell them that most of the senior Oda retainers seemed to think that Mitsuhide's adversity was their good luck. Furthermore, it was possible that Nobunaga was considering moving the Akechi clan to some out-of-the-way place. That was nothing more than a rumor, but there is rarely smoke without fire. Ranmaru, Nobunaga's favorite page, was the son of Mori Yoshinari, the Oda retainer who had died in battle years before at Sakamoto. For this reason Ranmaru secretly coveted Sakamoto Castle. There was even a rumor that he had already received a tacit promise from Nobunaga.

And there was more. Many were of the view that the order for Mitsuhide to advance toward the Sanin Road had more than likely been calculated so that when he occupied the area, he would be made its governor on the spot. Sakamoto Castle, so close to Azuchi, could then be presented to Mori Ranmaru.

As proof, Shinshi cited the military command given to Mitsuhide by Nobunaga on the nineteenth day of the month, and then he turned away in a fury. He need not have explained. The order had angered Mitsuhide and every one of his retainers. It read as follows:

In order for you to act as rear guard in Bitchu, you should set out from your own province in the next few days and thereby precede me to the battlefield. There you should wait for Hideyoshi's instructions.

This letter, circulated to all the generals and retainers of the Oda clan, was clearly written under Nobunaga's direction, so when it was brought to the warriors of the Akechi clan, their anger moved them to tears of rage. It had been customary to consider the Akechi clan superior to the Ikeda and the Hori, and as on the same level as Hideyoshi's Hashiba and the Shibata. Nevertheless, their lord's name had been recorded beneath those commanders' names in addition to his being put under Hideyoshi's command.

A lack of respect for one's rank was the greatest insult to a samurai. The shame of the banquet incident had been compounded in a military order. The men were outraged once again. By that time it was twilight, and the setting sun played over the walls. No one spoke, but tears stained the men's cheeks. Just then, the footsteps of several samurai could be heard in the corridor. Guessing that their lord was now returning, the men all scrambled out to meet him.

Only Shinshi, still in his travel clothes, held back waiting to be summoned. Mitsuhide, who had just returned from Mount Hiei, did not call Shinshi until after he had taken a bath and eaten.

No one was with him at that time but Mitsuharu, and Shinshi delivered a report that he had not given to the other retainers, which was that Nobunaga had made his decision and was preparing to set out from Azuchi on the twenty-ninth of the month. He would spend one night in Kyoto and then immediately go west.

Mitsuhide listened attentively. His eyes reflected his clear and observant intellect. He nodded at Shinshi's every word.

"How many will be accompanying him?" he asked.

"He will be accompanied by a few retainers and thirty or forty pages."

"What! He'll be going to Kyoto with so small an entourage?"

Mitsuharu had remained quietly in the background, but now that Mitsuhide, too, had sunk into silence, he dismissed Shinshi.

After Shinshi left, Mitsuharu and Mitsuhide were alone. Mitsuhide looked as though he wanted to open his heart to his cousin, but in the end, Mitsuharu did not give him the chance. Instead, Mitsuharu spoke of loyalty to Nobunaga and urged Mitsuhide to hasten to the western provinces so as not to offend his lord.

The upright character his cousin displayed was characterized by a strong and loving quality upon which Mitsuhide had relied for the last forty years, and he had faith in him now as the most dependable man in his clan. Therefore, even though Mitsuharu's attitude was not in tune with Mitsuhide's own innermost feelings, he was unable to be angry with him or try to pressure him.

After some moments of utter silence Mitsuhide suddenly said, "Let's send an advance party tonight to my retainers at Kameyama and have them prepare for the campaign as quickly as possible. Would you arrange that, Mitsuharu?"

Mitsuharu stood up happily.

That night, a small party of men hurried toward Kameyama Castle.

At about the fourth watch, Mitsuhide suddenly sat up. Had he been dreaming? Or had he been considering something and had decided against it? A little while later he pulled the coverlet over himself again, buried his face in the pillow, and tried to get back sleep.

Was it mist or rain? The sound of the waves in the lake, or the wind blowing down Mount Hiei? The wind from the mountain did not stop playing through the eaves of the mansion all night. Although it did not find its way inside, the candle at Mitsuhide's pillow flickered as though it were being shaken by an evil spirit.

Mitsuhide turned over. Although it was the season of short nights, to him it seemed that the morning was long in coming. Finally, just as his breathing had become deep and even, once again he suddenly pushed away his covers and sat up with a start.

"Is anyone there?" he called toward the pages' quarters.

Sliding doors were opened far away. The page on night watch silently entered and prostrated himself.

"Tell Matabei to come right away," Mitsuhide ordered.

Everyone in the samurai quarters was asleep, but as several of Mitsuhide's retainers had left for Kameyama the previous evening, those who had stayed behind were tense, not knowing when their lord, Mitsuhide, might himself depart. Each man had gone to bed that evening with his traveling clothes next to his pillow.

"Did you summon me, my lord?"

Yomoda Matabei had quickly appeared. He was a robust young man who had caught Misuhide's eye. Mitsuhide motioned him closer and whispered an order to him.

Upon receiving secret orders from Mitsuhide, the young man's face registered strong emotion.

"I'll go at once!" he answered, responding to his lord's trust with his entire being.

"You'll be recognized as an Akechi samurai, so go quickly—before dawn breaks. Have your wits about you, and don't blunder."

After Matabei had withdrawn, there was still some time before it would begin to grow light and it was only now that Mitsuhide was able to sleep soundly. Contrary to his usual practice, he did not leave his room until broad daylight. Many of his retainers had guessed that the departure for Kameyama would take place that day and had expected an early announcement to that effect. They were quite surprised when they discovered that their lord was sleeping so uncommonly late.

At about noon, Mitsuhide's relaxed voice could be heard in the hall.

"I spent the entire day walking around the mountain yesterday and slept better last night than I have for a long time. Maybe that's why I feel so good today. I seem to have completely recovered from my cold."

A look of congratulations that might as well have reflected on their own improved health circulated among his retainers. Soon after that Mitsuhide issued a command to his attendants.

"This evening in the second half of the Hour of the Rooster, we will depart Sakamoto, cross the Shirakawa River, pass through northern Kyoto, and return to Kameyama. Make sure that all of the preparations are complete."

More than three thousand warriors were to accompany him to Kameyama. Evening was approaching, Mitsuhide dressed in his traveling clothes and then went to find Mitsuharu.

"Since I will be going to the western provinces, I have no idea when I will be back. This evening I'd like to sit down and eat dinner with you and your family."

And so they were once again altogether as a family circle until Mitsuhide departed.

The eldest person at the banquet was Mitsuhide's eccentric uncle, Chokansai, a man who had taken holy orders. Sixty-six years old that year and free from any illness, he was given to telling jokes. He sat next to Mitsuharu's seven-year-old son, teasing him good-naturedly.

But the sociable old man was the only one who smiled from beginning to end. Igno­rant of the hidden reefs now threatening the Akechi clan, he simply entrusted his re­maining years to the ship that passed over the spring sea, and looked as peaceful as ever.

"It's so lively here, I feel as though I've returned home again. Old man, give this cup to Mitsutada."

Mitsuhide had already drunk two or three cups and now passed the cup on to Chokansai, who in turn handed it to Mitsutada.

Mitsutada was the commander of Hachijo Castle and so had just arrived today. He was the youngest of the three cousins.

Mitsutada drank the sake and, moving over in front of Mitsuhide, returned the cup to him. Mitsuharu's wife held the sake bottle and poured, and just at that moment Mitsu­hide's hand began to tremble in alarm. Ordinarily he was not the kind of man to be sur­prised by a sound, but now, as a warrior started to beat a drum in front of the castle, the color seemed to recede slightly from his face.

Chokansai turned to Mitsuhide and said, "It will soon be the Hour of the Rooster, so that must be the drum summoning your troops to the assembly ground."

Mitsuhide's mood seemed to sink even more. "I know," he said in what sounded like a bitter tone of voice, and he drained the last cup.

He was mounted within the hour. Beneath a sky of pale stars, three thousand men carrying torches left the lakeside castle in a meandering line and disappeared into the foothills of Shimeigatake. It was the evening of the twenty-sixth.

From the top of the castle Mitsuharu watched them go. He would form a regiment made up only of retainers from Sakamoto, and go on to join the main army at Kameyama later.

The army under Mitsuhide walked on without stopping. It was exactly midnight when the men looked from just south of Shimeigatake and saw the sleeping city of Kyoto.

To cross the Shirakawa River, they would descend the ridge of Mount Uriyu and come out on the road south of the Ichijo Temple. They had been climbing steadily, but from that point on the path would be all downhill.

"Take a rest!"

Mitsutada passed Mitsuhide's command on to the troops.

Mitsuhide dismounted as well and rested for a short while. If it had been daytime, he would have been able to look out over the various streets of the capital. But now the contours of the city were sunk in darkness, and only the distinctive features of the temple roofs and pagodas and the large river could be distinguished.

"Hasn't Yomoda Matabei overtaken us?"

"I haven't seen him since last night. Did you send him off on some mission, my lord?"

"That's right."

"Where did he go?"

"You'll know soon enough. If he comes back, send him to me. Even if we're en route."

"Yes, my lord."

In the second he fell silent, Mitsuhide's eyes were again looking eagerly out over the black roofs of the capital. Perhaps because the night mist would keep thickening and then thinning out, or because his eyes were becoming used to the night, he was gradually able to distinguish the buildings in the capital. The white walls of the Nijo Palace were brighter than anything else.

Naturally, Mitsuhide's gaze was captured by this one white point. It was there that Nobunaga's son, Nobutada, was staying. There also was Tokugawa Ieyasu, who had left Azuchi some days before and gone to the capital.

Lord Ieyasu has probably left the capital already, Mitsuhide thought.

Finally he quickly stood up, making all his generals jump.

"Let's go. My horse."

The dismay of his subordinates was like a wave that rippled out from the fitful actions of his isolated mind. For the last few days he had periodically secluded himself from his retainers, and he had behaved more like an orphan than like the leader of a samurai clan.

Although the soldiers who followed Mitsuhide had difficulty finding their way in the dark—surrounding him and yelling warnings back and forth—they gradually descended and approached the outskirts of the capital.

When the line of three thousand men and horses arrived at the Kamo River and paused momentarily, the soldiers all turned and looked to the rear, and Mitsuhide did the same: having observed the red waves on the river, they knew that the morning sun was rising over the ridges behind them.

The officer in charge of the army's provisions came up to Mitsutada and asked him about breakfast. "Shall we make the morning's preparations here or go on to Nishijin?"

Mitsutada was going to ask Mitsuhide what his intentions were, but at that moment Yomoda Masataka had pulled his horse alongside of Mitsuhide's, and the two men seemed to be gazing steadily at the Shirakawa, which they had crossed. Mitsutada held back for a moment.

"Masataka, is that Matabei?"

"I believe it is."

Mitsuhide and Masataka were watching a horseman hurriedly approaching through the morning mist.

"Matabei." While Mitsuhide waited right where he was for the man he had been expecing, he turned and spoke to the commanders around him. "Go ahead and cross the river. I'll follow you momentarily."

The advance guard had already waded across the shallows of the Kamo to the far bank. As the other commanders left Mitsuhide's side, their horses kicked up a white foam in the middle of the clear water. One by one they crossed the stream.

Mitsutada took this opportunity to ask, "Where shall we have our meal? Would it be convenient to have it at Nishijin?"

"Everyone's stomach must be empty, but we shouldn't stop in the city limits. Let's go as far as Kitano," Mitsuhide replied.

At a distance of about twenty yards, the approaching Yomoda Matabei dismounted and wound his horse's reins around a piling in the riverbed.

"Mitsutada and Masataka, the two of you cross the river as well, and wait for me on the other side. I'll follow soon."

After these last two men had gone some distance, Mitsuhide turned in the direction of Matabei for the first time and beckoned him over with a look.

"Yes, my lord!"

"What's going on in Azuchi?"

"The report you heard previously from Amano Genemon seems to be without error."

"The reason I sent you a second time was to get positive information on Lord Nobunaga's departure for the capital on the twenty-ninth, and on what kind of force he was taking with him. To give me some vague response about there being no mistakes in a former report is worthless. Make a clear report: was it reliable information or not?"

"It is certain that he will leave Azuchi on the twenty-ninth. I couldn't get the names of the main generals who will accompany him, and it was announced that forty or fifty pages and close attendants will be with him."

"What about his lodgings in the capital?"

"He'll be at the Honno Temple."

"What! The Honno Temple?

"Yes, my lord."

"Not Nijo Palace?"

"All of the reports said that he would be staying at the Honno Temple," Matabei answered quite clearly, careful to avoid being scolded again.


Characters and Places | Taiko | The Shrine of the Fire God