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The Shrine of the Fire God

There was a huge gate at the very center of the compound's mud wall, and each of the sub-temples had its own enclosure and gate. The pine forest seemed to have been swept clean, and itself looked like a Zen garden. Birdsong, and the sunlight streaming through the treetops, added to the peace of the scene.

After tethering their horses, Mitsuhide and his retainers ate the meals they had packed for both breakfast and lunch. Although they had planned on having breakfast near the Kamo River, they had waited to eat until they had arrived at Kitano.

The soldiers carried a day's worth of provisions: a simple meal of uncooked bean paste, pickled plums, and brown rice. They had not eaten since the night before, and they now breakfasted happily.

Three or four monks from the nearby Myoshin Temple, who had recognized the men as members of the Akechi clan, had invited them into the temple compound.

Mitsuhide was sitting on a camp stool in the shadow of the curtain his attendants had set up. He had finished his meal and was dictating a letter to his secretary.

"The priests of the Myoshin Temple they'd make perfect messengers! Call them back!" he ordered a page. When the priests had returned, Mitsuhide entrusted them with the letter his secretary had just written. "Would you please take this letter quickly to the residence of the poet Shoha?"

Immediately afterward he got up and walked back to his horse, telling the monks, Im afraid that we have no spare time on this trip. I'll have to forgo meeting the abbot. Please give him my regards."

The afternoon grew hot. The road to Saga was extraordinarily dry, and the horses' hooves kicked clouds of dust into the air. Mitsuhide rode in silence, thinking through a plan in his characteristically careful way, weighing its feasibility, the likely public reaction, and the possibility of failure. Like a horsefly that always comes back no matter how often it is brushed away, the scheme had become an obsession that Mitsuhide could not drive from his mind. A nightmare had sneaked into him and filled his entire body with poison. He had already lost his power to reason.

In all of his fifty-four years, Mitsuhide had never relied on his own wisdom the way he was doing now. Although objectively he would have had every reason to doubt his own judgment, subjectively he felt exactly the opposite. I haven't made the smallest mistake, Mitsuhide said to himself. No one could suspect what's on my mind.

While he had been in Sakamoto, he had wavered: Should he go ahead with the plan or scrap it? But this morning, when he heard the second report, his hair had suddenly stood on end. In his heart he had resolved that the time was now, and that heaven had sent him this opportunity. Nobunaga, accompanied by only forty or fifty lightly armed men, was staying at the Honno Temple in Kyoto. The demon that possessed Mitsuhide whispered to him that it was a unique opportunity.

His decision was not a positive act of his own will, but rather a reaction to external circumstances. Men like to believe that they live and act according to their own wills, but the grim truth is that outside events actually stir them to action. So while Mitsuhide believed that heaven was his ally in the present opportunity, part of him was beset by the fear as he rode along the road to Saga that heaven really was judging his every action.

Mitsuhide crossed the Katsura River and arrived at Kameyama Castle in the evening just as the sun dropped below the horizon. Having been informed of their lord's return the townspeople of Kameyama welcomed him home with bonfires that lit up the night sky. He was a popular ruler who had won the affection of the people as a result of his wise administration.

The number of days in a year that Mitsuhide spent with his family could be counted on the fingers of one hand. During long campaigns, he might not come home for two or three years. For that reason, those rare days he could be at home were animated by the delight of seeing his wife and children, and being a husband and father.

Mitsuhide had been blessed with an exceptionally large family of seven daughters and twelve sons. Two-thirds of them were married or had been adopted by other families, but several of the younger ones, as well as children of his kinsmen and their grandchildren, were still living at the castle.

His wife, Teruko, always said, "How old will I be when I no longer have to look after children?" She took in the children of clan members who had died in battle and even raised the children her husband had fathered with other women. This gentle, wise woman was contented with her lot, and although she was already fifty, she put up with the children and their mischief.

Since leaving Azuchi, Mitsuhide had not found a comfort equal to being at home, and he slept peacefully that night. Even on the next day, his children's cheerfulness and his faithful wife's smile soothed his heart.

It might be supposed that spending such a night would cause him to change his mind. But he did not waver in the least. On the contrary, he now had the courage to realize an even more secret ambition that lodged in his heart.

Teruko had been with him from the time he had had no lord to serve. Happy with her present estate, she had no other thoughts than to be a mother to her children. Looking at her now, Mitsuhide formed silent words in his breast. Your husband is not going to be like this forever. Everyone will soon be looking up to you as the wife of the next shogun. And as he gazed at the children and other members of his large household, for a moment he was caught up in his own fantasy. I'm going to move you all from this provincial castle to a palace even more elevated than Azuchi. How much happier you will then!

Later that day, Mitsuhide left the castle, accompanied by a few attendants. He was lightly dressed and was not being waited upon by his usual retainers. Though there had been no official announcement, even the soldiers at the castle gate knew that their lord was going to spend the night at Atago Shrine.

Before departing for the west, Mitsuhide was going to the shrine to pray for good luck in battle. Accompanied by a few of his closest friends, he would stay in the shrine to hold a poetry party and would return the following day.

When he said that he was going to a shrine to pray for victory in battle, and that he was inviting some friends from the capital for a party, nobody suspected what was really Mitsuhide's mind.

The twenty servants and half a dozen mounted retainers were dressed more lightly than they would have been had they been going hawking. On the day before, the monks of Itokuin Temple and the priests of Atago Shrine had been informed of the visit, so they were waiting to welcome their lord. As soon as he had dismounted, Mitsuhide asked for a monk by the name of Gyoyu.

"Is Shoha coming?" Mitsuhide asked the monk. When Gyoyu replied that the famous poet was already there waiting for him, Mitsuhide exclaimed, "What? Here already? Well, that's perfect. Has he brought other poets from the capital?"

"It seems that Master Shoha had very little time to prepare himself. He received your invitation yesterday evening, and found that whoever he tried to invite was unable to attend at such short notice. Along with his son, Shinzen, he was only able to bring two others: a disciple by the name of Kennyo, and a relative called Shoshitsu."

"Is that so?" Mitsuhide laughed. "Did he complain? I knew it was an unreasonable request, but after honoring him time and time again by sending palanquins and escorts, this time I thought it would be much more elegantand more enjoyableif he was the one who went to some trouble to meet me. That's why I invited him to this place so suddenly. But just as you might expect, Shoha didn't even feign illness. He scurried up the mountain at once."

With the two monks walking ahead and his attendants behind, Mitsuhide climbed a flight of high stone stairs. Just when it seemed as though there would be flat ground to walk on for a while, the stairs would begin again. As they climbed, the dark green of the cypress trees deepened even more, and the dark violet of the summer sky edged into evening. They felt the night approaching quickly. With every step, their skin could feel the sudden drop in temperature; it was considerably colder at the summit than it had been at the foot of the mountain.

"Master Shoha sends his apologies," Gyoyu told Mitsuhide when they had reached the guest room of the temple. "He would have come to meet you, but since he thought

you would probably pray first at the temples and shrines on the way, he said he would greet you after your devotions."

Mitsuhide nodded silently. Then, after drinking a cup of water, he asked for a guide. "Before anything else, I'd like to offer a prayer to the patron deity, and then I'll visit the Atago Shrine while there's still some light."

The shrine priest led the way along a neatly swept path. He climbed the stairs of the outer shrine and lit the sacred candles. Mitsuhide bowed low, and stood in prayer for some time. Three times the priest whisked a branch of the sacred tree over Mitsuhide's head, and then offered him an earthen cup of sacred sake.

"I've heard that this shrine is dedicated to the fire god. Is that true?" Mitsuhide asked afterward.

"That is true, my lord," the priest replied.

"And I've heard that if you pray to this god and abstain from using fire, your prayers will be answered."

"That has been said since ancient times." The priest avoided giving a clear answer to the question, and turned it back on Mitsuhide. "I wonder how that tradition originated?" Then, changing the subject, he began to talk about the history of the shrine.

Bored by the priest's monologue, Mitsuhide gazed at the holy lamps in the outer shrine. Finally he stood up silendy and descended the stairs. It was already dark when he walked to the Atago Shrine. Leaving the monks, he went alone to the nearby Temple of the Shogun Jizo. There he drew his fortune, but the first lot he pulled predicted bad luck. He drew again, and that one too read "Bad luck." For a moment, Mitsuhide stood as silent as stone. Picking up the box that held the fortunes, he lifted it reverentiy to his forehead, closed his eyes, and drew for the third time. This time the answer was "Great good fortune."

Mitsuhide turned and walked toward his waiting attendants. They had watched him from afar as he drew his fortune, imagining that he was only indulging a fancy. Mitsuhide was, after all, a man who prided himself on his intellect and who was, above all else, rational. He was hardly the kind of man who would use fortune-telling to reach a decision,

The flickering lamps of the guest room shone through the young leaves. For Shoha and his fellow poets, it would be a night of grinding ink on the inkstones as they recorded their own verses.

The night's entertainment began with a banquet at which Mitsuhide was the guest of honor. The guests bantered and laughed and drank many rounds of sake, and they were so engrossed in their conversation that they seemed to have forgotten all about poetry.

"The summer nights are short," their host, the abbot, announced. "It's getting late and I'm afraid it's going to be light before we finish our hundred linked verses."

In another room, poetry mats had been arranged. Paper and an inkstone had been set in front of each cushion as though to encourage the participants to write elegant verses.

Shoha and Shoshitsu were both accomplished poets. Shoha was regarded affectionately by Nobunaga and was on familiar terms with Hideyoshi and the leading tea master

of the day. He was a man who had a large circle of acquaintances.

"Well, my lord, would you give us the first verse," Shoha requested.

Mitsuhide, however, did not touch the paper in front of him. His elbow was still on the armrest, and he seemed to be looking out into the darkness of the garden where the leaves were stirring.

"It seems that you're racking your brains for your verse, my lord," Shoha teased Mitsuhide.

Mitsuhide picked up his brush and wrote:

The whole country knows

The time is now,

In the Fifth Month.

At a party like this, once the first verse was composed, the participants added verses in turn until anywhere from fifty to a hundred linked stanzas had been added. The party had begun with a verse by Mitsuhide. The closing verse that tied the work together was also composed by Mitsuhide:

Time for the provinces

To be at peace.

After the monks had extinguished the lamps and withdrawn, Mitsuhide appeared to fall asleep immediately. As he finally lay his head on the pillow, the mountain wind outside shook the trees and howled through the eaves of the roof as strangely as if that mythical, long-nosed monster, Tengu, were raising a fearful cry. Mitsuhide suddenly recalled the story he had heard from the priest at the shrine of the fire god. In his head he imagined Tengu rampaging through the jet black sky.

Tengu gnaws on fire and then flies up into the sky. A huge Tengu, and smaller Tengus without number, turned into fire and mounted the black wind. As the fires fell to earth, the shrine of the fire god immediately became a mass of firebrands.

He wanted to sleep. He wanted terribly to sleep. But Mitsuhide was not dreaming; he was thinking. And his brain could not stop the illusion in his mind. He turned over and started to think about the coming day. He knew that on the morrow Nobunaga would leave Azuchi for Kyoto.

And then the borderline between wakefulness and dream began to blur. And in this state, the difference between himself and Tengu disappeared. Tengu stood on the clouds and looked over the nation. Everything he saw was to his own advantage. In the west, Hideyoshi was nailed down at Takamatsu Castle, grappling with the armies of the Mori. If he could collude with the Mori and take the advantage, the army under Hideyoshi, which had spent so many wearisome years on the campaign, would be buried in the west and would never again see the capital.

Tokugawa Ieyasu, who was in Osaka, was a clever survivor. Once he saw that Nobunga was dead, his attitude would depend entirely on what Mitsuhide offered. Hosokawa Fujitaka would no doubt be momentarily indignant, but his son had married Mitsuhide's daughter, and he had been a devoted friend for many years. He would not be unwilling to cooperate.

Mitsuhide's muscles and blood were tingling. In fact, his ears burned with such intensity that he felt young again. Tengu turned over. Mitsuhide let out a groan.

"My lord?" In the next room, Shoha rose a little and called out, "What's the matter, my lord?"

Mitsuhide was dimly aware of Shoha's question but intentionally gave no answer. Shoha quickly went back to sleep.

The short night was soon over. Upon arising, Mitsuhide bade farewell to the others and descended the mountain while it was still shrouded in a thick morning mist.

* * *

On the thirtieth day of the month Mitsuharu arrived at Kameyama and joined forces with Mitsuhide. Members of the Akechi clan had been coming in from the entire province, swelling the already significant army from Sakamoto. Thus the castle town was crowded with horses and men; carts of military supplies jammed every intersection, and the streets had become nearly impassable. The sun shone down brightly, and it was suddenly almost like midsummer: porters filled the shops and argued with their mouths full of food; outside, the foot soldiers squeezing between the oxcarts yelled back and forth. Along the streets, flies buzzed and swarmed over the droppings left by the horses and oxen.

"Has your health held up?" Mitsuharu asked Mitsuhide.

"Just as you see." Mitsuhide smiled. He was much more amiable than he had been at Sakamoto, and the color had returned to his face.

"When do you plan to leave?"

"I've decided to wait it just a little, until the first day of Sixth Month."

"Well, what about Azuchi?"

"I've informed them, but I think Lord Nobunaga is already in Kyoto."

"The report is that he arrived there without incident last night. Lord Nobutada is staying at the Myokaku Temple, while Lord Nobunaga is at the Honno Temple."

"Yes, I've heard that." Mitsuhide's words trailed off into silence.

Mitsuharu suddenly got up. "I haven't seen your wife and children for a long time. Perhaps I'll go pay my respects."

Mitsuhide watched his cousin walk away. A moment later he looked as though his chest were so congested that he could neither spit nor swallow.

Two rooms away, Mitsuhide's retainer Saito Toshimitsu was conferring with other generals, studying military charts and discussing tactics. He left the room to talk with Mitsuhide.

Are you going to send the supply train to the Sanin ahead of us?"

The supply train? Hm well, we don't need to send it ahead."

Suddenly Mitsuhide's uncle, Chokansai, who had just now arrived with Mitsuharu, looked in.

"Hey, he's not here. Where did the lord of Sakamoto go? Anybody here know?"

He looked around, goggle-eyed. Although he was an old man, he was so sunny and cheerful that he drove others to distraction. Even if the generals were about to leave on a campaign, Chokansai seemed as cheerful as usual. He turned in another direction. When he casually showed up at the ladies' apartments in the citadel, however, the women and their many children ran up to him.

"Oh, Lord Jester has come!" the children cried.

"Lord Jester! When did you get here?"

Whether he stood or sat, the happy voices around him did not cease.

"Are you staying overnight, Lord Jester?"

"Lord Jester, have you eaten yet?"

"Lift me up, Lord Jester!"

"Sing us a song!"

"Show us a dance!"

They jumped up on his lap. They played with him. They clung to him. They looked into his ears.

"Lord Jester! There's hair growing out of your ears!"

"One, two."

"Three, four." Singing out the numbers, little girls pulled out the hairs while a little boy sat astride his back, pushing down his old head.

"Play horsy! Play horsy and whinny!"

Chokansai crawled around submissively, and when he suddenly sneezed, the little boy fell off his back. The ladies-in-waiting and attendants laughed so hard they held their sides.

Even as night fell, the laughter and hubbub did not stop. The atmosphere of the ladies' apartments was as different from that of Mitsuhide's room in the main citadel as a meadow in spring might be from a snow-covered moor.

"Uncle, now that you're getting on in years," Mitsuharu said, "I'd be grateful if you'd stay here and take care of the family rather than coming with us on the campaign. I think I should tell our lord that."

Chokansai looked at his nephew and laughed. "My final role may have to be something like that. These little ones just won't leave me alone." Night had fallen, and they were badgering him to tell them one of his famous stories.

This was the last day left before the departure for the campaign. Mitsuharu had expected that there would be a general conference that evening, but as the main citadel was quiet, he went over to the second citadel and slept.

The next day Mitsuharu waited in anticipation all day, but no orders were forthcoming. Even when night fell, there was no movement in the main citadel. When he sent one his retainers to ask about the situation, the answer came back that Mitsuhide had already gone to bed and was asleep. Mitsuharu was suspicious, but there was nothing he could do except go to sleep himself.

At about midnight Mitsuharu was awakened by the sound of whispering coming from the guardroom two doors down the hallway. Footsteps approached, and the door of his room slid open noiselessly.

"What is it?" Mitsuharu asked.

The guard, who must have thought Mitsuharu would be asleep, hesitated for a moment. Then he hurriedly prostrated himself and said, "Lord Mitsuhide is waiting for you in the main citadel."

Mitsuharu got up and began to dress; he asked what time it was.

"The first half of the Hour of the Rat," the guard replied.

Mitsuharu went out into the ink-black corridor. When he saw that Saito Toshimitsu was kneeling by the doorway, waiting for him, Mitsuharu wondered what the reason was for this unexpected summons in the middle of the night.

Toshimitsu walked ahead, holding a candle. They met no one during their long walk down the winding corridor. Almost everyone was peacefully asleep in the main citadel but an unusual atmosphere permeated this one part of the building, and it seemed that men were up and about in two or three rooms.

"Where is His Lordship?"

"In his sleeping quarters."

Toshimitsu put out the candle at the entrance to the corridor leading to Mitsuhides bedroom. With a look, he invited Mitsuharu to enter, and opened the heavy door. As soon as Mitsuharu had gone in, Toshimitsu shut the door behind him. It was only from the farthest room in the corridorMitsuhide's bedroomthat the faint light of a lamp leaked out.

When Mitsuharu looked into the room, he could see neither attendants nor pages. Mitsuhide was alone, dressed in a summer kimono of white gauze, his long sword beside him, his hand on an armrest at his side.

The light of the lamp was particularly pale because it was filtered through the green gossamer mosquito netting that hung around Mitsuhide. When he slept, the netting surrounded him on all four sides, but now the front was held up by a strip of bamboo.

"Come in, Mitsuharu," Mitsuhide said.

"What is this all about?" his cousin asked, after kneeling in front of Mitsuhide.

"Mitsuharu, would you risk your life for me?"

Mitsuharu knelt in silence, looking as though he had forgotten how to speak. Mitsuhide's eyes were ablaze with a strange light. His question had been simple and directthe very words Mitsuharu had been afraid of hearing since Sakamoto. Now Mitsuhide had finally spoken, and though Mitsuharu was not surprised, the blood in his veins felt as though it had turned into ice.

"Are you against me, Mitsuharu?"

Still he did not answer. Mitsuhide, too, fell silent. His face displayed a certain paleness that was not due to the green netting or the guttering of the lamp, but to the reflection of some emotion in his heart.

Mitsuharu knew, almost by intuition, that Mitsuhide had prepared a contingency plan to use if he opposed him. Built into the wall beyond the mosquito netting, in the corner of a large alcove, was a secret chamber that could conceal an armed man. The flecks of gold on the surface of the hidden door shone ominously, as if glinting with the bloodthirsty intent of the hidden assassin.

To Mitsuharu's right was a large sliding door. He could hear nothing from behind it, but he could sense the presence of Saito Toshimitsu and several other men who had their weapons drawn, just waiting for Mitsuhide's word. Mitsuharu could not resent Mitsuide's heartless and underhanded behavior; pity came before that. Had the intelligent man he had known since his youth disappeared? He felt as though he were looking at nothing but the wreck of that man now.

"Mitsuharu, what is your answer?" Mitsuhide asked, edging closer.

Mitsuharu felt his cousin's hot breath burning like the fever of a sick man. "Why do you want me to risk my life?" he finally asked in reply. He knew very well what Mitsuhide was planning to do, so he was now deliberately feigning ignorance. He held on to the hope that somehow he could pull his cousin back from the brink.

At Mitsuharu's words, the veins on Mitsuhide's temples stood out even more. His voice became unusually husky as he said, "Mitsuharu, don't you know that something has been gnawing at me since I left Azuchi?"

"It's obvious."

"If that's so, then why are all these words necessary? A yes or a no will suffice."

"My lord, why are you the one who is refusing to speak? It is not only the fate of the Akechi clan that depends on what you say now but the future of the nation."

"What are you saying, Mitsuharu?"

"To think that you, of all people, should consider committing this outrage." Tears spilling down his cheeks, Mitsuharu drew closer to Mitsuhide and dropped both hands to the floor in supplication. "I have never understood human character less than I have tonight. When we were both young and studied together in my father's house, what was it that we read? Was there a single word in the books of the ancient sages that approved of killing one's own lord?"

"Speak more quietly, Mitsuharu."

"Who's going to hear me? All you have here is assassins behind secret doors, waiting for your command. My lord I have never once doubted your wisdom. But you seem to have changed so much from the man I used to know."

"It's too late, Mitsuharu."

"I must speak."

"It's useless."

"I must, even if it's useless." Bitter tears fell on Mitsuharu's hands.

Just then something moved behind the hidden door. Perhaps the assassin had sensed that the situation had become tense and was eager to act. But there was still no signal from Mitsuhide. He turned away from his cousin's weeping figure.

"You have studied so much more than others, your intellectual powers are much greater than most people's, and you have reached the age of mature judgment. Is there anything you don't understand?" Mitsuharu pleaded. "I am so ignorant that I lack the words. But even someone like me can read the word 'loyalty' and meditate on it until it has become a part of me. Although you've read ten thousand books, it will all come to naught if you lose sight of that word now. My lord, are you listening? Our blood has been drawn from a line of ancient warriors. Would you stain the honor of our ancestors? And what of your own children and their descendants? Think of the shame you'll heap on endless generations."

"You could enumerate those kinds of things without end," Mitsuhide replied. "What I intend to do transcends them all. Forget about changing my mind. I've considered the good sense you've just spoken about night after night, turning them over again and again in my brain. When I look back over the road I've traveled for the past fifty-five years know I would not be this distraught if I had not been born a samurai. Nor would I be intent on such a thing."

"And it's precisely because you were born a samurai that you should not act against your lord, no matter how much you've had to bear."

"Nobunaga rose against the shogun. And everyone knows how much bad karma accumulated from burning down Mount Hiei. Look what befell his senior retainers-Hayashi, Sakuma, Araki. I cannot think of their tragic fates as other people's affairs."

"My lord, you've received a province. The clan lacks for nothing. Think of the favors he has bestowed upon us."

At this point Mitsuhide lost control, and his words burst forth like a river in flood. "What is the favor of an insignificant province like this? I would probably have this, even if I weren't talented. Once he has everything he needs from me, I'll be nothing more than a lapdog to be fed at Azuchi. Or maybe he'll consider me a useless luxury. He's even put me under Hideyoshi's command and ordered me to the Sanin. If that isn't a pronouncement of the Akechi clan's fate, I don't know what is. I was raised a samurai; I have inherited the blood of generations of warriors. Do you think I'm going to finish my days kowtowing while he orders me around? Can't you see through Nobunaga's black heart, Mitsuharu?"

Mitsuharu sat in stunned silence for a while, then asked, "To whom have you disclosed your intentions?"

"Besides you, a dozen of my most trusted retainers." Mitsuhide took a deep breath and listed the men's names.

Mitsuharu looked up to the ceiling and let out a long sigh. "What can I say now that you've told them?"

Mitsuhide suddenly moved forward and grabbed his cousin's collar with his left hand. "Is it no?" he asked. His right hand gripped the haft of his dagger, while his left shook Mitsuharu with terrifying strength. "Or is it yes?"

Every time Mitsuhide shook Mitsuharu, his head moved back and forth as though his neck contained no bones. Tears were streaming down his face.

"At this point it's no longer a matter of yes or no. But I don't know what it would have been if you had told me before you informed the others, my lord."

"Then you agree? You'll act with me?"

"You and I, my lord, are two men, but we are the same as one. If you were to die, I wouldn't want to live. Technically, we are lord and retainer, but we have the same roots and the same birth. We have lived our lives together until now, and I am naturally resolved to share whatever fate lies ahead."

"Don't worry, Mitsuharu. It's going to be all or nothing, but I feel our victory is certain. If we are successful, you won't be in charge of a minor castle like Sakamoto. I

promise you that. At the very least, you'll have the title next to mine and will be the lord of a great number of provinces!"

"What! That is not the issue." Casting off the hand that held his collar, Mitsuharu pushed Mitsuhide back. "I'd like to cry my lord, please allow me to cry."

"What are you sad about, you fool?"

"You're the fool!"

"Fool!"

The two called each other names back and forth and then embraced, tears rolling down their cheeks.

* * *

It certainly felt like summer; the first day of the Sixth Month was hotter than it had been for many years. In the afternoon, columns of cloud covered a section of the sky in the north, but the slowly setting sun continued to scorch the mountains and rivers of Tamba until dusk.

The town of Kameyama was now totally deserted. The soldiers and wagons that had packed its streets were gone. Soldiers, carrying firearms, banners, and spears, were marching out of the town in a long line, their heads baking in iron helmets. The townspeople crowded by the roadside to watch the army depart. Searching out the benefactors who had patronized their shops in the past, they wished them luck as loudly as they could and urged them on to great deeds.

But neither the marching soldiers nor the cheering crowds knew that this setting out was not the beginning of a campaign in the west, but the first step toward Kyoto. Except for Mitsuhide and a dozen men on his field staff, not one single person knew.

It would soon be the Hour of the Monkey. Booming through the blood-red western sun, conch shells resounded high and low, one after another. The soldiers, who had been doing little more than crowding around various encampments, got up immediately to get into their proper columns. Dividing into three lines, they formed ranks, banners aloft.

The greenery of the surrounding mountains and the pale green foliage nearby rustled with fragrance as the slight evening breeze wafted across the innumerable faces. Once again the conch soundedthis time from the distant forest.

From the grounds of the shrine of the war god Hachiman, Mitsuhide and his generals moved forward in brilliant array through the slanting rays of the western sun. Mitsuhide reviewed his troops, who massed together resembled a wall of iron. Every soldier looked up as Mitsuhide passed by, and even the rank and file felt proud to be under the command of such a great general.

Mitsuhide wore black armor with light green threading under a white and silver brocade coat. His long sword and saddle were of exceptional workmanship. Today he appeared much younger than usual, but this was not true of Mitsuhide alone. When a man put on his armor, he was ageless. Even alongside a warrior of sixteen on his first campaign, an old man did not show or feel his age.

Today, Mitsuhide's prayers had been more beseeching than those of any other man in his army. And for that reason, as he passed each soldier, his eyes looked strained by his resolve. The countenance of the commander-in-chief did not go unreflected in the martial spirit of his men. The Akechi had gone to war twenty-seven times. Today, however, the men were feverish with tension, as if they had intuited that the battle they were heading for was out of the ordinary.

Every man felt that he was setting out never to return. That mass intuition filled the place like a bleak mist, so that the nine banners emblazoned with blue bellflowers fluttering above each division seemed to be beating against a bank of cloud.

Mitsuhide reigned in his horse, turned to Saito Toshimitsu who was riding by his side, and asked, "How many men do we have altogether?"

"Ten thousand. If we include the various carriers and packers, there must be more than thirteen thousand men."

Mitsuhide nodded then said after a pause, "Ask the corps commanders to come here.

When the commanders had assembled in front of Mitsuhide's horse, he pulled back momentarily, and in his place his cousin Mitsutada came forward, flanked by generals to his left and right.

"This is a letter that arrived last night from Mori Ranmaru, who is now in Kyoto. I am going to read it to you so that it will be understood by everyone."

He opened the letter and read: '"By command of Lord Oda Nobunaga you are to come to the capital, so that His Lordship may review the troops before their departure for the west."'

"We will leave at the Hour of the Rooster. Until then have your soldiers prepare their provisions, feed their horses, and rest."

If the sight of thirteen thousand men preparing their provisions in the field was quite a spectacle, it was a congenial one. In the meantime, the corps commanders who had been summoned were called once againthis time into the forest of the Hachiman shrine. There, enhanced by the shadows of dusk and the cries of the cicadas, the cool air felt almost like water.

A moment before, the sound of hands clapping in prayer could be heard from the shrine. It seemed as though Mitsuhide and his generals had been praying before the gods. Mitsuhide had persuaded himself that he was not acting purely out of the enmity and resentment he felt toward Nobunaga. The fear that he might end up like Araki or Sakuma had allowed him the rationalization that it was a matter of self-defense; he was like a cornered animal forced to strike first in order to stay alive.

From the shrine it was only five leagues to the Honno Temple, where his lightly protected enemy was staying. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Conscious that his treachery looked like opportunism, he could not concentrate on his prayer. But he had no trouble in justifying his actions: he enumerated Nobunaga's crimes over the past two decades. In the end, although he had served Nobunaga for many years, Mitsuhide was nostalgic for the old shogunate, with all of its stagnation.

The commanders waited, crowding together. Mitsuhide's stool was still unoccupied. His pages said that he was still praying at the shrine and would soon return. Not long thereafter, the curtain parted. Greeting the men who had gathered there, Mitsuhide's close retainers entered one by one. Mitsuhide, Toshimitsu, Mitsuharu, Mitsutada, and Mitsuaki were the last to appear.

"Are these all of the corps commanders?" Mitsuhide asked.

With alarming speed, the immediate area was completely surrounded by soldiers. Caution could be read on Mitsuhide's face, and a wordless warning was very clearly concentrated in the eyes of the generals.

Mitsuhide said, "You may think it rather cold of me to take these kinds of precautions when talking to my retainers, and especially to retainers on whom I rely. Don't take this measure in the wrong way; it's only in order to disclose to you a great, long-awaited eventan event that will affect the entire nation and that will mean either our rise or our fall."

Thus he began the disclosure of his intentions. Mitsuhide enumerated his grievances against Nobunaga: the humiliations at Suwa and Azuchi and, the final indignity, an order to join the campaign in the west that implied he was subordinate to Hideyoshi. He went on to list the names of the men who had served Nobunaga for years, only to be driven to self-destruction. It was Nobunaga who was the enemy of righteousness, the destroyer of cullture, and the conspirator who had overthrown institutions and brought the nation to chaos. He ended his speech by reciting a poem he had written.

Let a person with no understanding

Say what he will;

I will have no regrets for either

Position or fame.

While reciting the poem, Mitsuhide began to feel the pathos of his own situation, and tears began to run down his cheeks. His senior retainers, too, began to weep. Some among them even bit the sleeves of their armor or fell face down on the earth. There was only one man who did not weepthe veteran Saito Toshimitsu.

In order to bind their tears in a pledge of blood, Saito Toshimitsu broke in and said, I think His Lordship has opened his heart to us because he considers us men he can trust. If a lord is shamed, his retainers die. Is it our lord alone who is being pained? These old bones of mine have little time left, but if I can witness the downfall of Lord Nobunaga and see my lord become the ruler of the nation, I will be able to die without any regrets."

Mitsuharu spoke next. "Each of us thinks of himself as His Lordship's right-hand man, so once he has spoken, there is only one road to take. We should not be late for our own deaths."

The corps commanders all answered in unison. The glint of emotion in every eye and open mouth seemed to say they knew no other word than yes. When Mitsuhide stood up, the men shook with their strong feeling. They congratulated him loudly, as was the time-honored custom when leaving for the front.

Yomoda Masataka looked up at the sky and then urged the men to prepare themselves mentally. "It will soon be the Hour of the Rooster. It's about five leagues to the capital. If we travel across country, we should be able to surround the Honno Temple by dawn. If we can take care of the Honno Temple before the Hour of the Dragon and then destroy the Myokaku Temple, everything should be settled before breakfast."

He had turned to Mitsuhide and Mitsuharu and had spoken with complete conviction. This speech, of course, was neither a recommendation nor counsel. It was to let the main commanders know that the country was already in their hands, and to exhort them to fire up their blood.

It was the second half of the Hour of the Rooster. The road was already dark in the shade of the mountain. The armor-clad men flowed in a black line through the village of Oji and finally reached the hill of Oinosaka. The night sky was full of stars, and the capital below looked like its reflection.


Fortress in a Lake | Taiko | "Fifty Years under Heaven"