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"Fifty Years under Heaven"

The reddish rays of the western sun fell into the empty moat of the Honno Temple. It was the first day of the Sixth Month. The sun had beat down relentlessly on the capital for the entire day, and now spots of dry mud were appearing even in the comparatively deep moat.

The tile-roofed mud walls ran for more than one hundred yards to the east and west, and for two hundred yards from north to south. The moat was over twelve feet wide, and deeper than usual for a temple. Passersby might look up at the roofs of the main temple and the ten or so monastery buildings, but nothing could really be seen from the outside. Only the famous honey locust tree in a corner of the compound was visible from quite some distance away. It was so large that people called it the Honno Forest, or the Locust Tree Grove.

The tree was as famous a landmark as the pagoda of the Eastern Temple. When the late afternoon sun filled its high branches, a multitude of crows raised a racket all at once. And no matter how fastidious and elegant the citizens of Kyoto tried to be, there were three things they could not avoid: stray dogs at night, cow dung in the streets in the morning, and crows in the afternoon.

Within the grounds of the temple there were still a number of vacant areas. Much construction was needed to complete the reconstruction of the twenty or so buildings that had been destroyed by fire during the civil wars in the capital. If a visitor walked in the direction of Fourth Street from the temple's main gate, he would see the mansion of the governor of Kyoto, the samurai quarter, and the streets of a well-regulated town. But in the northern part of the city, the slums remained like islands, just as they had been iring the shogunate, and one narrow alleyway still richly deserved its old name, Sewer Street.

The children of the neighborhood almost burst from the alleys between the rough walls that wound beneath the twisted eaves of the single-roofed houses. With their boils, rashes, and sniveling noses, they flew through the streets like giant winged insects.

"The missionaries have come!" the children shouted.

"The priests from the Namban Temple are walking by with a pretty birdcage!"

The three missionaries laughed when they heard the children's voices, and slackened their steps as though waiting for friends.

The Namban Temple, as the missionaries' church was popularly known, was on nearby Fourth Street. The chanting of the religious services at the Honno Temple could be heard in the morning in the slums, and in the evening the church bell echoed through the alleyways. The gate of the Honno Temple was very imposing, and the monks who lived there walked through the streets with haughty expressions, but when the missionaries came through, they were humble and friendly toward the locals. Seeing a child with boil on his face, they would pat his head and show him how to treat it; if they heard that someone was sick, they would visit that person. It was said that no one should interfere in a quarrel between husband and wife, but if the missionaries passed by on such an occasion, they would step in and try to settle it. Thus they earned a reputation for being kind and understanding. "They're really working for the sake of society," people said. "Maybe they are messengers from the gods."

The people had been struck with admiration for the missionaries for some time. Their good works extended to the poor, the sick, and the homeless. The church even had something like a charity hospital and a home for the aged. And if that wasn't enough, the missionaries liked children.

But when these selfsame missionaries ran into Buddhist priests on the streets, they did not treat them with the same humility as they did the children. Indeed, they looked at the priests as if they were bitter enemies. For this reason they would take the long way around through Sewer Street, avoiding the Honno Temple as much as possible. Today and the day before, however, they had had to make daily visits to the temple itself, because it had become the headquarters of Lord Nobunaga. This meant that the most powerful man in Japan was now their neighbor.

Carrying a small tropical bird in a gilded cage and some pastries made by the cook they had brought from their own country, the three missionaries now seemed to be on their way to offer presents to Lord Nobunaga.

"Missionaries! Hey, missionaries!"

"What kind of bird is that?"

"What's in the box?"

"If it's cake, give us some!"

"Give us some, missionary!"

The children of Sewer Street came up and blocked their way. The three missionaries did not look annoyed at all, but smilingly admonished them in broken Japanese as the walked along.

"These are for Lord Nobunaga. Don't be disrespectful. We'll give you all cakes when you come to the church with your mothers," one of the priests said.

The children tagged along behind, and ran around ahead of them. While the priests were thus surrounded, one of the children ran to the edge of the moat and fell in, making a sound just like a frog. The moat was empty, so there was no danger of the boy drowning, but the bottom of the moat was as muddy as a swamp. The child squirmed in it like a mudfish. The sides of the moat were made of stone, so even an adult would have had trouble climbing out. Indeed, sometimes a poor drunk would fall in and drown on a night when rainwater had filled it to overflowing.

Someone immediately notified the boy's family. The curious neighbors of Sewer Street clamored out of their houses like water boiling out of a pot, and the parents came running out barefoot. It was a calamity. But by the time they had arrived, the little boy had already been rescued. He looked like a lotus root plucked from the mud, and he was sobbing loudly.

He and two of the missionaries had mud splattered all over their hands and clothes, the third missionary had jumped into the moat after the boy, and he was completely covered in mud.

When the children looked at the missionaries, they ran around happily, hooting, clapping their hands, and shouting, "The missionary has turned into a catfish! His red beard all muddy!"

But the parents of the boy thanked them and praised their god, even though they were not Christians. They bowed at the priests' feet and shed tears of thankfulness with their hands folded in prayer. In the black mountain of people that had formed behind them, words of praise for the missionaries went from mouth to mouth.

The missionaries showed no regret at having come this far only to have to turn back the way they had come, carrying their now useless presents. In their eyes, Nobunaga and the boy from the slums were exactly the same. Moreover, this incident had become talk that would spread from house to house, and the missionaries knew very well what a large and inspiring wave it might grow into.

"Sotan, did you see that?"

"Yes, I was impressed."

"That religion is frightening."

"Yes, it is. It really makes you think."

One of the speakers was a man of about thirty, while the other was much older. They looked like father and son. There was something about them that set them apart from the important merchants of Sakaia part of their character, perhaps, that spoke of a liberal breadth and depth of upbringing. Nevertheless, looking at them, one knew at once they were merchants.

With Nobunaga in residence, the Honno Temple was no longer a simple temple. From the night of the twenty-ninth on, at the main gate of the temple there was a tumult of carts and palanquins, and the din of people going in and out. The audiences Nobunaga was now granting seemed matters of grave concern to the entire nation. Thus, a man might withdraw after having obtained at least a word or smile from Nobunaga and go home with the happy feeling that he had gained something worth a hundred or a thousand times the value of the rare utensils, fine wines, delicacies, or other gifts he had presented.

"Let's wait here for a moment. It looks as though a courtier is going through the gate."

"It must be the governor. Those look like his attendants."

The governor, Murai Nagato, and his attendants had stopped at the main gate and seemed to be waiting discreetly as the palanquin of an aristocrat was brought out. Very soon afterward, a few samurai led two or three bay and dappled horses behind a small procession of palanquins and litters. When the samurai recognized Nagato, they bowed as they went by, taking the horses' reins in one hand.

As soon as the crush was over, Nagato entered the gate. And when the two merchants had assured themselves that he was inside, they turned their steps in the same direction.

Naturally, the guards at the front gate were exceptionally severe. The people who passed in and out were not used to seeing the wartime glitter that shone from the spear halberds, and even the eyes of the warriors stationed there. The guards all wore armor and if anyone looked suspicious, they stopped that person with loud shouts and yells.

"Wait a minute! Where are you going?" the guard asked the two merchants.

"I am Soshitsu of Hakata," the older man said courteously. When he bowed his head the younger man did the same

"I am Sotan, also of Hakata."

The guards looked as though they couldn't understand anything from that introduction alone, but their captain, who was standing in front of the guardhouse inside, motioned them through with a smile.

"Please, come in."

The Omotemido Hall was the main building of the temple compound, but the real center was Nobunaga's quarters. Outside of the room from which Nobunaga's voice could be heard, a brook murmured from a spring in the garden, and from the buildings a little farther beyond, the bright laughter of women occasionally wafted over on the breeze.

Nobunaga was speaking to a messenger from his third son, Nobutaka, and Niwa Nagahide: "That will be of some help to my old hand, Nagahide. Have him informed that everything is secure. I'll be going to the western provinces in a few days myself, so we'll be meeting there soon."

Nobutaka and Niwa's army was to sail for Awa the next morning. The messenger had come to give that report along with the information that Tokugawa Ieyasu had traveled from Osaka to Sakai.

Nobunaga looked around at the color of the sky as though he had just noticed it, and said to a page, "It's dusk. Roll up the blinds on the western side." Then he asked Nobutada, "Is it hot where you're staying too?"

Nobutada had come to the capital a little before his father and had taken lodgings at the nearby Myokaku Temple. He had been stationed there the evening his father had entered the capital, which was yesterday, and today as well, and he seemed a little tired. He had thought he would announce his leave, but his father said, "Why don't we have tea tonight in private? For the last two nights we've had guests, and it saddens me when there's not enough leisure. I'll invite some interesting people for you." Nobunaga was going to entertain his son, and he was not about to take no for an answer.

If he had been allowed to express what was really on his mind, Nobutada might have

Said that he was only twenty-five years old and did not understand tea as his father did.

He had an especially strong aversion to those tea masters who wasted their leisure hours during wartime. If he was going to have the pleasure of being with his father, a tea master was not welcome. To be honest, in his heart he wanted to leave for the campaign right away. He did not want to be behind his younger brother, Nobutaka, by even an hour.

It seemed that Nobunaga had also invited Murai Nagato, not in his official capacity of governor of Kyoto, but as a friend. But Nagato was unable to forget the stiff formality that was usual between lord and retainer, and the conversation remained awkward. Awkwardness was one of the things Nobunaga detested. With daily events, the pressures of administering the government, guests coming in and out, and lack of sleepwhen he was able get away from public duties for a moment, he could not stand to be confronted with such formality. These situations always made him think fondly of Hideyoshi.

"Nagato?" Nobunaga said.

"Yes, my lord?"

"Isn't your son here?"

"He came with me, but he's a bit of an ignoramus, so I had him wait outside."

"That kind of reserve is really boring," Nobunaga muttered. When he had asked the man to bring along his son, obviously it was in order to talk lighfheartedly, not in order have a formal interview between lord and retainer. He did not order Nagato to call his son in, however.

"I wonder what happened to our guests from Hakata," Nobunaga said. He stood up and walked into the temple, leaving Nobutada and Nagato where they were.

Bomaru's voice could be heard in the pages' room. His older brother, Ranmaru, seemed to be scolding him for something or other. By this time, all of Mori Yoshinari's children were adults. It had been rumored recently that Ranmaru hoped to receive Sakamotopresently an Akechi castlewhich had been his father's domain. The report was circulating widely, and even Nobunaga was outraged by the thought of it. So to dissi[ate the public rumor, he now rethought his own rather unseemly policy of keeping Ranmaru dressed as a page and having him constantly at his side. To amend this would be for his own sake as well.

"Will you be going out into the garden?" Ranmaru asked.

Nobunaga had been standing on the veranda, and Ranmaru quickly ran out from the pages' room to place some sandals on the steppingstone. It was good to have someone so quick-witted and gentle in his service, Nobunaga thought; he had grown used to that kind of solicitude over ten or so years.

"No, I'm not going into the garden. It's been hot today, hasn't it?"

"Yes, the sun really burned down on us."

"Are the horses in the stable all healthy?"

"They seem to be a little low-spirited."

Nobunaga looked up and strained his eyes at the evening star, perhaps having sudden thoughts of the faraway western provinces. Ranmaru stared up blankly at Nobunaga's profile. Nobutada had also come in and was standing behind the two men, but Ranmaru's gaze showed that he had forgotten about the younger man's very existence. It was almost as though he were looking at his master for the last time. If his spirit had had the power of self-consciousness, he might have been even more aware of his strange intuition of that moment, and of the goose bumps that were even now appearing on his skin. It was just about the time Akechi Mitsuhide was arriving at Oinosaka.

The smoke from the stoves in the huge kitchen began to envelop the inside of the temple. Firewood was alight not only in the stoves but also in the baths. And not just at the Honno Temple: in the hour just before nightfall, smoke from cooking fires trailed off into the sky both inside and outside of the capital.

Nobunaga poured water over himself in the bath. A single white flower on a vine showed itself through the bamboo lattice of a high window cut out of the wall. After his hair was arranged and he had donned fresh clothes, Nobunaga walked back along the bridged corridor.

Ranmaru came up and announced that Sotan and Soshitsu of Hakata were waiting for him in the tearoom.

"They've been here since before dark, and the two of them swept the path from the tearoom to the entrance and polished the veranda themselves. Then Master Soshitsu watered the path and made a flower arrangement, while Master Sotan went to the kitchen and gave instructions for the dishes they would present to you."

"Why wasn't I informed earlier?"

"Well, they said that since they were the hosts, we should wait until everything was ready."

"It appears they have some sort of plan. Was Nobutada told about this? And Nagato?"

"I'll invite them right away."

When Ranmaru left, Nobunaga went to his quarters but very quickly redirected his steps toward the tearoom.

The building did not have the appearance of a tearoom. The building had been designed as a drawing room, and a smaller space had been created for the tea ceremony by the placement of folding screens.

The guests were Nobunaga, Nobutada, and Nagato and his son. The lamps added a refreshing atmosphere to the room. After the tea ceremony had been concluded, the hosts and their guests moved to a larger room, where they talked late into the night.

Nobunaga was still very hungry. He devoured the dishes placed before him, drank winewhich appeared as if it had been made of melted rubiesand occasionally took a European cake from the well-stocked plate, all the while conversing nonstop.

"I'd like to take a tour of the southern lands, with you and Sotan as my guides. Surely you've traveled to those places a number of times."

"I think about it all the time but haven't been able to go," Soshitsu answered.

"Sotan, you're young and healthy. Have you been there?"

"Not yet, my lord."

"Neither of you have been there?"

"No, even though our employees are constantly going back and forth."

"Well, I would think that would be a disadvantage for your trade. Even if someone like me had such hopes, there would never be a good time to leave Japan, so there's really nothing to be done. But you own ships and branch stores and are always free to travel. Why haven't you gone yet?"

"The rush of work you have with the affairs of the country is of a different nature than ours, but somehow we've been prevented in one way or another by our household affairs and will be unable to leave for one year or so. Nevertheless, on the day Your Lordship settles all of the many affairs you attend to, I'd like to go with you and Sotan and give you a grand tour."

"Let's do that! That's been one of my desires for such a long time. But Soshitsu, are you going to live that long?"

As the page poured out the wine, Nobunaga joked with the old man, but Soshitsu was not to be bested.

"Well now, rather than worrying about that, can you assure me that you're going to put everything in order of before I die? If you're the one that's too slow, I may not be able wait."

"It should be soon," Nobunaga said, smiling, delighted by the old man's banter.

Soshitsu was able to speak his mind in a way that Nobunaga's generals could not. From time to time during the conversation, Nobutada and Nagato would feel uneasy about that, wondering if it was truly all right for these merchants to be speaking as frankly as they were. At the same time they wondered why these commoners had Nobunaga's favor. It was highly unlikely that Nobunaga tolerated them as friends just because they were tea masters.

Nobutada was bored by the conversation. Only when the talk between his father and the two merchants turned to the subject of the southern lands was Nobutada's interest engaged. Those things were all new to his ears, and inspired him to youthful dreams and ambitions.

Regardless of whether their understanding of the southern lands was deep or not, the intellectuals at that time had an interest in them. The very essence of Japanese culture was being rocked by a tidal wave of innovations from overseas, foremost among which was the gun.

Much of what was known about the south was brought by missionaries from Spain and Portugal; but men like Soshitsu and Sotan had started their trade without waiting for the missionaries. Their ships crossed to Korea and traded with China, Amoy, and Cambodia. The men who had told them of the wealth beyond the sea were not the missionaries, but Japanese pirates who made their lair near Hakata, in Kyushu.

Sotan had inherited his business from his father and had established branches in Luzon, Siam, and Cambodia. It is said that he is the man who imported waxtree nuts from south China and who developed a method of manufacturing wax, thereby making the lamp fuel that caused the nights in Japan to shine so much brighter. Improving the metallurgical techniques brought in from overseas, he is also credited with bringing about the refinement of iron smelting.

Soshitsu was also involved in overseas trade and was related to Sotan. There was not a lord on the island of Kyushu who had not borrowed money from him. He owned ten or more large ocean-going ships and a hundred smaller vessels.

It would not be an exaggeration to say that Nobunaga had picked up almost all of his knowledge about the world beyond Japan while drinking tea with these two men. Even now Nobunaga was absorbed in conversation, reaching out for one European cake after another. Soshitsu observed how many he was eating and remarked, "Those are made with something called sugar, so you should be careful about eating too many of them before you go to bed."

"Is sugar poisonous?" Nobunaga asked.

"If it isn't a poison, it certainly isn't healthful, either," Soshitsu answered. "Foods from the barbarian lands are thick and rich, while our Japanese foods have a blander taste. These cakes are much sweeter than our dried persimmons or rice cakes. Once you get a taste for sugar, you won't be satisfied with our own sweets anymore."

"Has a lot of this sugar already been imported to Kyushu?"

"Not so much. With an exchange rate of one weight of sugar to one weight of gold, we don't get much of a percentage. I'm thinking of shipping in some sugar plants and trying to transplant them to a warm region, but, like tobacco, I'm wondering if sugar would be a good thing to popularize in Japan."

"That's not like you," Nobunaga laughed. "Don't be so narrow-minded. It doesn't make any difference whether they're good or bad. Just lump them together and ship them in, and they'll bring a special quality to the culture. All sorts of things are finally being brought in from the western and southern seas right now. Their penetration to the east is unstoppable."

"I applaud your tolerance, my lord, and adopting that way of thinking would certainly be a great help to our business, of course. But I wonder if we should leave it at that."

"We should, without a doubt. Bring in everything new as fast as you can."

"As you wish, my lord."

"Or failing that, chew it up well and then spit it out," Nobunaga added.

"Spit it out?"

"Chew it well, take what's of good quality into your stomach, and spit out the dregs. If the warriors, farmers, artisans, and merchants of Japan understand that principle, there'll be no problems in importing anything."

"No, that's no good." Soshitsu waved his hand emphatically. He was against this altogether, and was quick to give his opinions about the direction of the government. "You, my lord, the ruler of this country, may feel that way, but recently I've seen some worrisome signs, and I, for one, cannot agree with you."

"What do you mean?"

"The spread of false religions."

"You mean the missionaries? Have the Buddhists been making demands on you, too, Soshitsu?"

"You're being a bit too disdainful. This problem is truly distressing the nation."

Soshitsu went on to tell the story of the child who had fallen into the moat a few hours before, and how the self-sacrifice of the missionaries had impressed the people.

"In less than ten years, thousands have abandoned the altars of their ancestors and converted to Christianity. And this has occurred not only in Omura and Nagasaki but also throughout Kyushu, in remote areas of Shikoku, and even in Osaka, Kyoto, and Sakai. Your Lordship has just said that it would be all right if whatever we brought into Japan were chewed up and spit out, but religion is unique and probably cannot be treated in that way. No matter how much the people chew, their souls are going to be drawn into this heresy, and they won't give it up, even if you crucify them or cut off their heads."

Nobunaga was completely silent. His expression indicated that this was a problem of such gravity that it could not be discussed in a few words. He had burned Mount Hiei and, using a violence that had been beyond the reach of former rulers, had brought Buddhism to its knees. He had dealt with the clergy with a rain of hellfire and swords, but he himself knew better than anyone else that, wherever he went, the resentment toward him was unlikely to dissipate.

On the other hand, he had permitted the missionaries to build a church, he had publicly recognized their work, and from time to time he had even invited them to banquets. The Buddhist monks raised a hue and cry about which of them Nobunaga considered to the foreignersthe Christians or themselves.

Nobunaga loathed explanations. He hated to hear something spelled out, but he respected a direct intuition between people. In fact, he was elated by it.

"Sotan." He now turned to converse with the other man. "What do you think about this? You're young, so I imagine that you naturally see things differently from Soshitsu."

Sotan looked cautiously at the lamp for a moment, but then answered quite clearly.

"I agree with you, my lord, that it would be all right to chew this matter of foreign religion well and then spit it out."

Nobunaga turned and looked at Soshitsu like someone who had just had his opinions confirmed. "Don't worry. You have to grasp the larger scheme of things. Centuries ago, Lord Michizane advocated the combination of the Japanese soul and Chinese know-how. Whether we import the customs of China or artifacts from the West, the colors of fall and the cherry blossoms of spring do not change. Rather, when rain falls on a pond, the water is renewed. You're making the mistake of gauging the ocean by the moat of the Honno Temple. Isn't that true, Soshitsu?"

"Yes, my lord, one must measure a moat by a moat's standards."

"And the same with culture from overseas."

"As I get old, even I have become like a frog in a well," Soshitsu said.

"I think you're more like a whale."

"Yes," Soshitsu agreed, "but a whale with narrow vision."

"Hey, bring some water," Nobunaga ordered the page sleeping behind him. He was not yet finished with the evening. Though they had not eaten or drunk for a while, the excitement of the conversation had continued on its own.

"Father," Nobutada said, sliding over to Nobunaga. "It's gotten awfully late. I'm going take my leave."

"Stay a little longer," Nobunaga said, restraining him more than he would have ordinarily. "You're just over at Nijo, aren't you? Even if it's late, you're almost right next door, Nagato lives right in front of the gate, and our guests from Hakata are hardly going back there tonight."

"No, just me" Soshitsu looked as though he were getting ready to leave. "I have an appointment tomorrow morning."

"Then the only person staying is Sotan?"

"I'll be on night duty. There's work left for me, tidying up the tearoom."

"I see. You won't stay for my sake. You're carrying that expensive tea equipment with

you, and you must stay here to guard it tonight."

"I won't contradict you, my lord."

"Speak frankly," Nobunaga laughed. Suddenly looking behind him, he stared at the hanging scroll on the wall. "Mu Ch'i is very good, isn't he? You rarely see such skill nowadays. I've heard that Sotan owns a painting by Mu Ch'i called Ships Returning from Faraway Ports. I wonder if anyone is worthy of owning such a famous painting?"

Sotan suddenly laughed out loud, as though Nobunaga were not there.

"What are you laughing about, Sotan?"

Sotan looked at the people around him. "Lord Nobunaga would like to take my Mu Ch'i scroll with one of his sly stratagems: 'Is anyone worthy of owning such a painting? This is like sending agent-provocateurs into an enemy province. You'd better look out for your precious oak tea caddy!" And he could not stop laughing.

He had hit dead center. For some time, Nobunaga had been after the painting. Both the tea caddy and the painting were family heirlooms, however, and for that reason even Nobunaga had not been able to speak his own mind freely.

But now the owner had been kind enough to bring up the matter, and Nobunaga thought that that was the same as promising to give him the object. Certainly, after laughing at him so audaciously, Sotan would not have the heart not to give him what he wanted.

So Nobunaga laughed too. "Well, you don't miss anything, Sotan. When you get to my age, a man can become a true disciple of tea." He was revealing the truth in a jest.

Soshitsu rejoined, "In a few days I'll be meeting Master Sokyu from Sakai. Let's deliberate together then about where the painting belongs. Of course, it would have been best to ask Mu Ch'i himself."

Nobunaga's mood was improving. And, although the attendants came to trim the wicks of the lamps a number of times, he simply sipped water and went on, oblivious of the passage of time.

It was a summer night, and the temple's shutters and doors were all open. Perhaps for that reason, the flames in the lamps were continually flickering and were capped by halos of evening mist.

If one had been able to read the future in the light of the lamps that evening, one might have divined an evil omen in the halos of mist or in the shades of light passing through the wicks of the lamps.

Someone knocked at the front gate of the temple. After a while an attendant announced that a dispatch had arrived from the western provinces. Taking advantage of the moment, Nobutada stood up and Soshitsu also begged to take his leave. Nobunaga then stood up also, to accompany them as far as the bridged corridor.

"Sleep well," Nobutada said, turning once more and looking at the figure of his father from the corridor.

Nagato and his son were standing next to Nobutada, holding lanterns. The halls of the Honno Temple compound sank back into a darkness as black as ink. It was the second half of the Hour of the Rat.

* * *

Mitsuhide was standing at a crossroads: a right turn would take him westward; a left turn would lead him through the village of Kutsukake and across the Katsura River, and to the capital. He had reached the crest of the hill he had been climbing all his life. The two roads before him represented a turning point and a finality. But the view that presented itself to his eye that night did not compel him to reflection of any sort. Instead, the broad sky showing him the twinkling of peaceful stars seemed to promise a great change in the world, one that would begin with the new dawn.

No order had been given to rest, but Mitsuhide's horse had stopped, and he sat in the saddle, silhouetted against the starry sky. Perceiving that he was not going to move for the moment, the generals around him, clad in glittering armorand the long lines of armored men, banners, and horses behind himwaited restlessly in the dark.

"There's a spring bubbling up over there. I can hear water murmuring, I think."

"There it is. Water!"

Groping along in the undergrowth of the precipice bordering the road, one of the men finally discovered a little stream in the rocks. One after another, the soldiers pushed forward to fill their canteens with the clear water.

"This will us get as far as Tenjin."

"Maybe we'll eat at Yamazaki."

"No, the night's so short, it'll probably get light when we get to the Kaiin Temple."

"The horses will get tired if we march during the daytime, so His Lordship is probably thinking that we should make as much progress as we can through the night and morning hours."

"That would be best until we get to the western provinces."

The foot soldiers, quite naturally, and even the samurai above themwith the exception of their commandersstill knew nothing at all. The whispers and laughing voices at did not quite reach the ears of the commanders manifested their assumption that the battlefield was still far away.

The line began to move. From that point, the commanders carried spears and advanced alongside of their troops with watchful eyes and a quickened pace.

To the left. To the left. The men began to descend the divide of Oinosaka to the east. Not one soldier turned off on the road to the west. Doubt reflected from eye to eye. But even those who were suspicious hurried on. The men behind simply looked up to the banners that fluttered in front of them; there was no mistake that this was the road on which their banners proceeded. The horses' hooves clattered on the steep slopes. From time to time the sound of the falling rocks became almost deafening. The army resembled a waterfall that would allow nothing to stand in its way.

Both men and horses were soaked with sweat, and their breath came in fiery gasps. Meandering through the deep mountain gorges, they once again descended. Quickly turning toward the babbling mountain stream, they pressed on toward the sheer slopes of Mount Matsuo.

"Take a rest."

"Break out the provisions."

"No fires are to be lit."

Orders were passed down, one after another. They were still only at Kutsukake, a village on the mountainside that was made up of no more than ten or so woodcutters houses. Nevertheless, the warning of the central command had been strict, and patrols were quickly set in the area of the road that went down to the foothills.

"Where are you going?"

"Down to the valley to get some water."

"You're not allowed to separate from the ranks. Borrow some water from somebody else."

The soldiers opened up their provisions and silently started to eat. A good bit of whispering was heard as they chewed their food. A number of the men wondered why they were fortifying themselves with a meal at this apparently inopportune time, halfway down the mountain. They had already eaten a meal before they had left the Hachiman Shrine that night.

Why weren't they to eat when the sun came up, at Yamazaki or Hashimoto where they could tether their horses? Though they were puzzled, they still assumed that they were on their way to the western provinces. The road to Bitchu was not the only way that led to their destination. If they turned to the right at Kutsukake, they could pass through Oharano and come out in the direction of Yamazaki and Takatsuki.

But when they started off once again, the entire army descended straight ahead to Tsukahara without turning to either side, and went on to the village of Kawashima. By the fourth watch, the greater part of the army looked down at the unexpected sight of the Katsura River under the night sky.

The soldiers suddenly became agitated. As soon as they felt the cool breeze of the river, the entire army stopped in its tracks in fear.

"Settle down!" the officers ordered the men.

"Don't make so much noise! And don't talk to each other unnecessarily!"

The clear water of the river shimmered, and in the breeze from the river the nine standards with their blue bellflowers swayed like long poles bent into bows.

Amano Genemon, whose command was on the edge of the army's right wing as, was summoned by Mitsuhide. He jumped off his horse and ran toward his commander.

Mitsuhide was standing on a dry part of the riverbed. The penetrating eyes of the generals all turned in Genemon's direction. There were Saito Toshimitsu, his face rimmed with frost-white hair, and Mitsuharu, whose tragic face now appeared like a mask. Along with these two men, the many armored members of his field staff surrounded Mitsuhide like an iron barrel.

"Gengo," Mitsuhide said, "it will soon be light. You take a company and cross the river first. On the way you are to cut down anyone who might be able to run through our lines to warn the enemy. Also, there may be merchants and other travelers who are passing through the capital in the early dawn, and it will be necessary to take care of the people. This is extremely important."

"I understand."

"Wait." Mitsuhide called the man back. "As a precaution, I've sent some men to guard the road through the mountains from Hozu, down from northern Saga, and along the Nishijin Road from the Jizoin. Don't attack our own men by mistake." Mitsuhide's voice was cuttingly sharp; it was easy to see that his mind was now working at full speed and that his blood vessels were so filled with tension they were close to bursting.

Watching Genemon's troops splash across the Katsura River, the remaining men felt increasingly uneasy. Mitsuhide remounted and, one after another, the men under his command followed his example.

"Give out the orders. Make sure no one misses a word."

One of the commanders at Mitsuhide's side cupped his hands around his mouth and shouted, "Take off your horses' shoes and throw them away!" The shrill command from the first ranks could be heard clearly. "The foot soldiers should all put on new straw sandals. Don't wear sandals with cords that are loose from walking on the mountain roads. If the cords have loosened, tie them firmly enough so that if they get wet, they won't chew up your feet. Gunners, cut your fuse cords to lengths of one foot and tie them in bundles of five. Unnecessary things, like the wrapping for provisions and personal effects, or anything that will be a burden to the free movement of your arms and legs, should be thrown into the river. Don't take anything but your weapons."

The army was dumbfounded. At the same time, something of a groundswell began bubble up from the men. It was connected with neither the sound of voices nor the appearance of motion. The men looked to the left and right, but having been forbidden to talk among themselves, it simply went from face to facea voiceless voice. Nevertheless, almost instantaneously, action was kindled wherever one looked. And it was so exceedingly swift that, superficially at least, any doubt, uneasiness, or alarm was nowhere apparent.

When everything was ready and the men had re-formed their ranks, the old warrior, Saito Toshimitsu, raised a voice that had been tempered in a hundred battles, and spoke to the troops almost as if he were reading.

"Rejoice. Today our master, Lord Akechi Mitsuhide, will become the ruler of the country. Do not entertain the least bit of doubt."

His voice carried all the way to the faraway foot soldiers and sandal bearers. Everyone gasped as though they were all breathing their last. But this gasp contained no trace of either joy or acclamation. It was more like a shudder. Toshimitsu closed his eyes and raised voice almost as though he were scolding the men. Was he trying to reassure himself, too?

"No day will ever shine as brightly as today. We will rely especially on the samurai to achieve meritorious deeds. Even if you fall in battle today, your relatives will be rewarded accordance with your actions." Toshimitsu's voice did not change much, right up to the time he finished speaking. He had been told what to say by Mitsuhide, and it was probably not in accord with his own thinking. "Let's cross the river!"

The sky was still dark. The current of the Katsura River momentarily checked the warhorses as they attempted to ford the stream. Curls of white waves surged and rolled back on themselves. The entire army shivered as the men sloshed through the water in soaked straw sandals. Although they were drenched, not one gunner let his fuse cords get wet. The clear water went up past their knees, and it was colder than ice. No doubt every soldier and officer was consumed by his own thoughts as he crossed the current, each man considered the words that were spoken by Toshimitsu and the corps commanders before he began to ford the stream.

Well, we must be attacking Lord Ieyasu. Except for Tokugawa Ieyasu, there's no one nearby enough to attack. But what did Toshimitsu mean when he said our lord would be come the ruler of the country from this day on?

That was as far as the soldiers' thoughts took them. In large part, the Akechi clan's warriors were men steeped in morality and justice, and it had still not occurred to them that the enemy was Nobunaga. The earnest, stubborn Akechi spirit, devoted to a sense of justice, had been passed from the company commanders down through the ranks, righ to the lowest foot soldier and sandal bearer.

"Hey, it's getting light."

"Daybreak will be here soon."

They were in the area between Nyoigadake and the mountain range that delimitated the eastern edge of Kyoto. The edge of a mass of clouds was glittering a bright red.

When the men strained their eyes, they could see the city of Kyoto just barely visible in the dark of dawn. Behind them, toward Oinosaka or the border of the grassy province of Tamba, however, the stars were so clear and bright they might have been counted.

"A corpse!"

"There's another one over there too."

"Hey, and over here!"

The army was now approaching the eastern outskirts of Kyoto. With the exception of groves and thatched huts, there was only dew-covered farmland until one reached the pagoda of the Eastern Temple.

Dead bodies were strewn at the foot of the pines along the side of the road, in the middle of the road, and almost everywhere the soldiers looked. The dead all seemed to have been farmers from the area. Lying face down as though asleep in a field of eggplant flowers, a young girl lay dead, still clutching her basket, cut down by the single stroke of a sword.

It was apparent that the blood was still flowing, for it was fresher than the morning dew. Undoubtedly the troops of Amano Genemon that had set out before the main army saw these early-rising farmers in their fields, chased them down, and killed them. They may have felt pity for their innocence, but their orders were not to risk the success of the greater action to come.

Looking down at the fresh blood on the earth and up at the red clouds in the sky Mitsuhide stood up in his stirrups, abruptly raised his whip into the air, and shouted "On to the Honno Temple! Overrun it completely! My enemies are at the Honno Temple Go! Go! I'll cut down anyone who lags behind!"

Now was the time for battle, and the nine banners emblazoned with the blue bellflowers split into three companies of three banners each. Striking into the entrance to Seventh Street, they trampled through city gate after city gate, swarming into the capital all at once. The Akechi army burst in through the gates at Fifth, Fourth, and Third streets, and poured into the city.

The mist was still thick, but a bright red dawn had begun to permeate the sky over the mountains, and as usual, the wicket gates were being opened for the people going to and fro.

The men crowded through the gates, and spears and guns swarmed in confusion.

Only the banners were kept down as the soldiers crowded through.

"Don't push! Don't be flustered! The rear corps should wait outside the gate for a moment."

Seeing the confusion, one of the commanders did what he could to restrain the men. Slipping the bar out of the large door, he opened the gate wide.

"All right! Go through!" he yelled, goading them on.

The order had been to rush in silently, without raising a battle cry, to keep the banners down, and even to keep the horses from neighing. But as soon as they crashed through the gates and stormed into the city, the Akechi troops had already worked themselves into a near frenzy.

"On to the Honno Temple!"

Through the general turmoil, the sound of opening doors could be heard coming from houses here and there, but as soon as the residents looked outside, they pulled their heads in again and slammed the doors tight.

Among the many units that pushed in on the Honno Temple, the forces that approached it the quickest were those led by Akechi Mitsuharu and Saito Toshimitsu, who could be seen in the vanguard.

"It's difficult to see in these narrow streets filled with mist. Don't get lost trying to get there before the others. The honey locust tree of the Honno Temple grove should be your landmark! Aim for the big bamboo stand between the clouds of mist. There it is! That's the honey locust tree of the Honno Temple!"

Galloping ahead on horseback and waving his hands furiously as he gave out instructions, Toshimitsu seemed to have pledged his warrior's voice to that one morning of life.

The second army, led by Akechi Mitsutada, was also in motion. Those forces inundated the district around Third Street, passed through the inner section like smoke, and made a drive to encircle the Myokaku Temple in Nijo. This action was naturally coordinated with the forces attacking the Honno Temple and was calculated to finish off Nobunaga's son Nobutada.

It was no distance from this place to the Honno Temple. The armies were separated by the dark of predawn, but already at this point an indescribable noise was beginning to rise from the direction of the Honno Temple. The ringing sound of the conch shell and booming of the gongs and drums could be heard. It would not be an exaggeration to say that the sound shook heaven and earth and was not like anything ordinarily heard in this world. There was no one in the capital that morning who did not either jump up in surprise or leap out of bed in response to the screams of his family.

Clamorous noises and voices quickly arose even in the ordinarily peaceful area of the nobles mansions that surrounded the Imperial Palace. With all of this uproar and the echoing of the drumming horses' hooves, the sky of Kyoto itself seemed to be ringing.

The confusion of the city people, however, was only momentary, and as soon as the nobility and common people understood the situation, their homes were as quiet as they had been a while before, when they had been sleeping peacefully. No one ventured to go out into the streets.

It was still so dark the soldiers could not determine whose face was in front of them,

and on their way to the Myokaku Temple, the second army mistook some of its own men, who had taken a roundabout way through another narrow street, for the enemy. Even though their commander had strictly warned them not to fire until the order was given, when they came to the corner of the intersection, the excited soldiers suddenly began to fire blindly through the mist.

When they smelled the gunpowder smoke, their spirits became all the more excited in spite of themselves. Even soldiers who had been in battles before might go through a situation like this before they achieved complete self-control.

"Hey! You can hear conch-shell horns and gongs over there. It's started over at the Honno Temple."

"They're fighting!"

"The attack is on!"

They couldn't tell if their feet were hitting the ground or not. Running forward, they still could not determine whose voices they heard, though there was no resistance in front of them. Still, the pores all over their bodies began to swell, and they were even unaware of the cold mist striking their goose-fleshed faces and hands. They shook with such feeling that all they could do was yell.

And so they raised their battle cry even before they saw the roofed walls of the Myokaku Temple. Unexpectedly, a cry rose up in the direction of the front of the unit, and the gongs and drums began to ring out impatiently as well.

Mitsuhide was with the third army. It would be proper to say that headquarters were located wherever he happened to be, and this time he had stopped at Horikawa. He was surrounded by members of his clan, and a camp stool had been set up for him, but he did not sit down even for a moment. His entire being was focused on the voices of the clouds and the shrieks of the mist, and he looked uninterruptedly into the sky in the direction of Nijo. From time to time his eyes overflowed with the red of the morning clouds, but still no flames or smoke reached skyward.

Nobunaga woke up with a start, but not for any particular reason. After a good night's sleep, he naturally woke up in the morning on his own. Since his youth he had always risen at dawn, no matter how late he had gone to bed. He awoke, or ratherwhile he was not yet fully conscious and his head was still on the pillowhe experienced a particular phenomenon. It was a transition from dreaming to wakefulness that lasted only a fraction of a second, but in that infinitesimal space, a number of thoughts would pass through his head with the speed of a flash of lightning.

They were memories of experiences that had occurred between the time of his youth and the present, or reflections on his present life, or goals for the future. Whatever they were, these thoughts would pass through his brain in that moment between dream and reality.

This experience was, perhaps, less a habit than an innate ability. As a child, he had already been an extraordinary dreamer. The brambles and thorns of reality, howeverespecially given his birth and breedingwould not permit him to live only in a world of dreams. The real world had added difficulties on top of difficulties and had taught him the pleasure of cutting his way through them.

During this period of growth, when he was tested and returned victorious, and was tested again, he ultimately learned that he was not satisfied with the difficulties given to him. The highest pleasure of life, he found, lay in seeking out difficulties, plunging right into them, and then turning back to see them behind him. His convictions had been strengthened by the self-confidence he had gained from such experiences and had put him into a frame of mind far beyond the common sense one of ordinary men. After Azuchi , the idea of the impossible did not exist within his boundaries or in the world of his conceptions. That was because the works he had accomplished up to that point had not been done by following the path of ordinary men's common sense; rather, he had taken the path of making possible the impossible.

And that morning, on the border between the world of dreams and his mortal body, where the intoxication of the night before was perhaps still running fragrantly through his veins, pictures were being drawn in his brain: convoys of huge ships going to the southern islands, to the coast of Korea, and even to the great country of the Ming. He himself stood in the tower of a ship along with Sotan and Soshitsu. One more person would have to accompany him, he thoughtHideyoshi. He felt that the day he could make this into a reality was not far off.

In his mind, a small accomplishment like the domination of the western provinces and Kyushu was not enough to fill an entire lifetime.

It's dawn, he muttered to himself, and he rose and left his bedroom.

The heavy cedar door that opened to the corridor had been exquisitely fashioned so that when it was pulled open or closed, the sill naturally made a noise almost as if it were calling out. When the pages heard this sound in their faraway room, they jumped up with a start. The flickering light of the paper lantern was reflected by the thick pillars and planks of the veranda, which gleamed as if they had been polished with oil.

Aware that their lord had awakened, the pages quickened their steps toward the bathoom next to the kitchen. On their way, they heard a noise in the direction of the north corridor. It sounded like a window shutter being opened quickly.

Thinking that it might be Nobunaga, they stopped and peered back toward the blind corridor. The only person visible, however, was a woman wearing a cool, large-patterned kimono and a long outer coat patterned with pines and cherry blossoms. Her long black hair trailed behind her.

As the shutters were open, a morning sky the color of bellflowers appeared through the window, looking almost like a paper cutout. The breeze that wafted in rustled the woman's black hair and sent the fragrance of aloeswood all the way to the place where the pages were lingering.

"Ah, over there." The pages heard the sound of running water and ran off in the direction of the kitchen. The priests of the temple had not yet left their living quarters, so the windows and the huge main gate had not yet been opened. In the wide earthen-bored kitchen and on the elevated wooden platform, the humming of mosquitoes and the darkness of the night remained, but the steaminess of the summer morning could already be felt.

Nobunaga felt a unique dislike for that particular time of day. By the time the pages

realized that he had left his sleeping quarters and had come running up, he had already finished rinsing his mouth and washing his hands. Walking over to the huge jar in which water flowed from a bamboo water pipe, he took a small pail and dipped it into a lacquered tub. Splattering water everywhere, just like a wagtail, he hastily washed his face.

"Ah, you're getting your sleeve wet, my lord."

"Let me change the water."

The pages were in dread. One of them fearfully lifted up Nobunaga's white sleeve from behind, while another dipped out fresh water. Still another held up a towel while kneeling at his feet. At the same time, the men in the samurai quarters left the night guardroom and began to open up the paneled doors in the court. Just at that moment, however, they became aware of an extraordinary noise coming from the direction of the outer main temple, and then of the reverberation of furious footsteps running toward the inner court.

Nobunaga turned around, his hair still dripping wet, and said impatiently, "Go see what it is, Bomaru." After giving the order, he continued vigorously rubbing his face with a cloth.

One of the pages said, "Maybe the guards at the outer temple have gotten into a fight or something."

Nobunaga did not acknowledge the remark. For a moment his eyes resembled the waters of an abyss, and sparkled as though he were searching for something, not in the outer world but within himself.

But only for a moment. It was not just outside the main temple. Here at the guest mansion, and from ridgepole to ridgepole of the ten or so monastery buildings, something as strong as an earthquake shaking the entire crust of the earth was being conveyed by an indefinable noise and a terrifying current of energy.

Any man, no matter how strong, is likely to feel confusion at such a moment. The blood retreated even from Nobunaga's face, and the pages attending him all turned pale. But they probably stood still for no more than a couple of breaths. Almost immediately,someone came running down the nearby corridor at great speed.

A man yelled, "My lord! My lord!"

The pages chorused, "Master Ranmaru! Master Ranmaru! Over here!" Nobunaga himself came out and called the man.

"Ranmaru! Where are you going?"

"Ah, you're here, my lord," Ranmaru said, almost falling down as he knelt. At a glance, Nobunaga could feel on the very surface of his flesh that what was happening was not just a simple matter of some samurai getting into a fight, or a row between the men at the stables.

"What's happened, Ranmaru? What's all the commotion?" he asked quickly, and Ranmaru was just as quick with his answer.

"The Akechi have committed an outrage. There are warriors outside, rioting and waving banners that are unmistakably emblazoned with the Akechi crest."

"What! The Akechi?" The words left his mouth in astonishment. His surprise demonstrated thoroughly that he had never expectednever even dreamedthat this would happen. But the singular physical shock and the emotional excitement he felt were halted at his lips. Speaking with nearly the same calm he always possessed, his next words sounded almost like a growl.

"The Akechi it was inevitable."

Turning quickly aside, Nobunaga dashed back into his room. Ranmaru started to follow him, but after five or six steps he turned back and scolded the trembling pages. "Each one of you get to work quickly. I've just ordered Bomaru to tell everyone to shut all of the gates and doors. Block all of the doorways, and don't let the enemy even get close to His Lordship." Before he was able to finish his words, bullets and arrows began to strike the kitchen door and the nearby windows like a downpour of rain. Countless arrows pierced deeply through the wooden doors, and the bright steel of their sharp points clearly proclaimed the battle to the people inside.

From south of Rokkaku, noth of Nishikikoji, west of Toin, and east of Aburakoji, the four sides of the Honno Temple were engulfed in the armor of the Akechi forces and their battle cries. The tile-roofed walls could be easily seen, but, protected by the deep moat, they could not be so easily scaled.

The forest of spears, banners, guns, and halberds did nothing more than sway back and forth.

Some of the men leaped rashly to the base of the roofed wall; others could not jump so far. Many of those who tried fell to the bottom of the moat. And because of their heavy armor, those who fell in were buried up to their waists in the foul-smelling, muddy swamp water, the color of black ink. Even if they had been able to get up and call, their companions above never looked down.

The Akechi troops at Nishikikoji demolished the tenements of the neighborhood, while women with infants, old people, and children fled from underneath the wreckage, like hermit crabs scuttling away from empty shells. In this way the soldiers filled the moat ith doors and roof planking.

Immediately, everyone scrambled to swarm over the wall. The gunners lined up their firearms and, aiming from the top of the wall down into the compound, fired off the first volley.

By then the buildings inside the temple compound were uncannily still. All of the doors in the front main temple were closed, and it was difficult to tell whether or not there was an enemy inside to shoot at. Flames and smoke began to rise from Sewer Street. The heat of the fire beneath the ruined houses immediately began to smolder and easily ignited one structure after the next. Soon all the poor people on the block stampeded out as though they would trample each other to death. Crying and screaming, they spilled into the dry riverbed of the Kamo River and into the center of town, carrying nothing with them at all.

Viewed from the area of the main gate on the opposite side of the temple, it must have seemed as though the men who had already broken through the rear gate had begun to set fire to the kitchen. The main force that thronged at the front gate was in no mood be bested by their comrades. In a rage, the rank and file yelled out to a wavering group officers who seemed to be doing nothing more than wasting time in the area of the drawbridge.

"Smash on in!"

"Push on through! What are you doing?"

One of the officers faced the guard inside the gate.

"We are the Akechi forces on our way to the western provinces. We have come here in full array in order to respectfully salute Lord Oda Nobunaga."

It was a poor attempt to trick the defenders into opening the main gate, and it only delayed matters even more. The guard was naturally suspicious, and he had no reason to open the gate on his own, without asking for Nobunaga's orders.

He told them to wait. The ensuing silence inside the gate meant that the emergency was being reported to the main temple and that there would be an instantaneous rush to man defenses.

The warriors jostling behind were becoming impatient at having to use a stratagem to cross this little bit of moat and they began to push the lines in front of them.

"Attack! Attack! What are we waiting for?"

"Take the walls!"

Recklessly competing to take the entrance first, they pushed those who were wavering to the side and even knocked them down.

A number of men in the front were pushed into the moat, and battle cries were raised both by those on top and by those who had fallen in. Then, apparently on purpose, groups even farther behind began to push. More men fell into the moat. In an instant one section of the moat was filled with mud-covered warriors.

One young warrior stepped over the mass of human beings and leaped for the base of the roofed wall. Another man followed his example.

"We're going over!"

Screaming and thrusting with their spears, the men crossed over and quickly clung to the top of the roofed wall. The jumble of warriors in the moat jostled and shoved like mudfish trying to jump out of a pond. The warriors above them trampled the backs, shoulders, and heads of their own comrades. One man after another was sacrificed wretchedly to the horrific, muddy rush. Because of their unseen distinguished service, however, voices soon yelled with pride from the top of the walls of the Honno Temple.

"I'm the first!"

So quickly did the others reach the wall that it was difficult to distinguish who was first and who second.

Inside the walls, the Oda samurai who were already running from the guard station inside the gate and the area around the stables seized any weapon they could and tried to stem the flood of this rushing river. It was, however, the same as trying to support a broken dam with nothing more than one's hands. Ignoring the swords and spears of the defenders, the Akechi vanguard quickly bounded through, stepping over the corpses of men who had engaged in the battle and were dyed in the flowing blood of their enemies.

As if to say that all they wanted was to visit the residence of Lord Nobunaga, they ran straight toward the main temple and the guest house. They were met, however by a hum of arrows like a roaring wind from the wide veranda of the main temple and from the balustrade of the guest house. The distance was advantageous for bowshot, but many of the arrows did not hit the advancing warriors, and instead dug harmlessly into the earth. Many others skipped along the ground or rebounded from the faraway walls.

Among the defenders, a number of brave men dressed only in sleeping attire, half-naked or even unarmed, grappled with the armored enemy. The guards who had received time off from duty had slept comfortably through the heat of the summer night. Now, perhaps ashamed to enter the fight late, they ran out to restrain the Akechi warriorsif ony a littlewith nothing more than the fierceness of their bodies and their own desperate efforts.

But the billowing waves of armor were not to be stopped and were already surging under the eaves of the temple. Darting back inside his room, Nobunaga had put on breeches over a garment of white silk and was fastening the cords as he gnashed his teeth.

"A bow! Bring me a bow!" he shouted.

After he'd yelled this order two or three times, someone finally knelt down and held a bow in front of him. Snatching it away, he bounded outside through the paneled doors, shouting back, "Let the women escape. Nothing is wrong with their getting away. Just don't let them become an encumbrance."

The noise of doors and screens being kicked in could be heard everywhere, and the screams of the women intensified the unnerving atmosphere under the shaking roof tiles. The women fled in confusion from room to room, running down the corridors and jumping over the handrails. Their ruffled trains and sleeves cut through the gloom like flying flames of white, red, and purple. But the bullets and arrows flew everywhereinto the shutters, the pillars, and the handrails. Nobunaga had already stepped out onto a corner of the veranda and was firing his arrows at the enemy. Around him were stuck the arrows that had been concentrated on his own figure.

Watching the fearful way he fought, even the women, who had lost all control of themselves, were unable to leave his side. All they could do was scream.

"Fifty years a human being under heaven." That line was from the play Nobunaga had loved so much, and it had characterized his view of life during his youth. He did not think of what was happening as a world-shaking event. He was certainly not dispirited by the thought that it might be the end.

Rather, he fought with a fierce, burning spirit that would not simply give up and die. The ideal that he held in his breast as the great work of his life had not yet been even half-finished. It would be too mortifying to be defeated in the middle of the journey. There was just too much to be regretted if he died this morning. So he took another arrow and notched it to the string. He listened to the string hum again and again, seeming to loose his anger with each arrow. Finally the string became frayed and the bow was ready to break.

"Arrows! I don't have any arrows! Bring me more!"

Continuing to call out behind him, he even picked up and shot the enemy's arrows that had missed him and fallen to the corridor. Just then, a woman wearing a red silk headband and gallantly trussing up one sleeve of her kimono carried in an armful of arrows and raised one to his hand. Nobunaga looked down at the woman.

"Ano? What you've done here is enough. Now try to escape."

He motioned her off emphatically with his chin, but the court lady, Ano, kept passing arrow after arrow to Nobunaga's right hand and would not leave, no matter how he upbraided her.

He shot with nobility and grace more than with skill, more with spirit than with great strength. The magnificent hum of his arrows seemed to say that the arrows themselv were too good for these menials, that the arrowheads were gifts from the man who would rule the nation. The arrows that Ano brought, however, were quickly spent..

Here and there in the temple garden the enemy lay, felled by his arrows. But, braving his fire, a number of the armored soldiers yelled out and pressed desperately in under the balustrade, and finally began to climb onto the bridged corridor.

"We can see you, Lord Nobunaga! You can't escape now! Give up your head like a man!

The enemy were as thick as the crows on the honey locust tree in the morning and evening. Personal attendants and pages positioned themselves around Nobunaga in the rear and side corridors in a protective stance, their swords shining with a fire born of desperation. They were not going to let the enemy get close. The Mori brothers were among them. A number of these men who had refused to leave their lord at the very end and had fought to protect him now lay on top of their enemies exactly as they had grappled with them, both seeming to have died by the other's hands.

The guard corps at the outer temple had made the main temple their battleground and now fought a fierce and bloody fight to keep the enemy from approaching the court. But because the enemy forces seemed about to take the entrance to the bridged corridor that led to the court, the entire corps, which consisted of less than twenty men, formed a single unit and dashed together toward the interior.

Thus the Akechi warriors who had scrambled up to the bridged corridor were caught on both sides. Stabbed and cut, their corpses fell on top of one another. When the men from the outer temple saw that Nobunaga was still safe, they cried out in elation, "Now there's time! Now! Retreat as quickly as possible!"

"Idiots!" Nobunaga spat, tossing his bow away. It had broken and he was out of arrows. "This is no time to retreat! Lend me your spear!"

Upbraiding them, he grabbed a retainer's weapon and ran down the corridor like a lion. Finding an enemy warrior with his hand on the balustrade and about to climb over he drove his spear straight down into the man.

Just then, an Akechi warrior drew back his small bow from the shade of a Chinese black pine. The arrow struck Nobunaga's elbow. Staggering back, Nobunaga leaned heavily against the shutter behind him.

At that very moment, some minor action was occurring outside the western wall. A force of retainers and foot soldiers under the command of Murai Nagato and his son had sallied out from the governor's mansion, which was located in the neighborhood of the Honno Temple. Striking at the encircling Akechi forces from behind, they attempted to enter the compound from the main gate.

The night before, Nagato and his son had stayed up late into the night talking with Nobunaga and Nobutada, returning to their mansion to sleep at about the time of the third watch. That, one could say, was the reason Nagato had been sleeping so soundly and had been caught off guard. As part of his duties, he should have knownat the very leastabout the situation the moment the Akechi forces stepped inside the capital precincts. And then he should have immediately sent a warning to the nearby Honno Temple, even if it had been just moments before the arrival of the hostile troops.

His negligence had been total and absolute. But the fault lay not with Nagato alone. Certainly, negligence could be attributed to all of those who were staying in the capital or had had mansions there.

"It seems there's some trouble outside," Nagato was told when he was first awakened. He had no idea of the magnitude of the trouble.

"Maybe it's a brawl or something. Go take a look," he told a retainer. Then, while he leisurely got out of bed, he heard one of his attendants calling out from the roof of the mud-walled gate.

"Smoke's coming up from Nishikikoji!"

Nagato clicked his tongue and muttered, "Probably some fire on Sewer Street again."

He was that mistaken about how much at peace the world was, and had completely forgotten that this was truly just one more day in the civil war.

"What! Akechi forces?" His astonishment lasted no more than a moment. "Damn!" and he leaped out of the mansion with almost nothing more than the clothes on his back. As soon as he saw the dense crowds of armored, mounted men, bristling with swords and spears in the dark morning mist, he hurried back inside the mansion, put on his armor, and grabbed his sword.

With a force of only thirty or forty men, he hastened off to fight at Nobunaga's side. The various Akechi corps had blocked off all the streets leading to the Honno Temple. The encounter with Nagato's force started at a corner of the compound's western wall and developed into fierce hand-to-hand fighting. Breaking through one small patrol, Nagato's little party pressed fairly close to the main gate; but once a detachment of the Akechi forces turned and witnessed this impertinent action, they readied their spears and charged. Nagato's tiny force was hardly a match for them, and both he and his son were wounded. With their numbers reduced by half, they were forced to retreat.

"Try to get to the Myokaku Temple! We will join Lord Nobutada!"

Above the huge roof of the Honno Temple, jet black smoke could be seen billowing like thunderclouds. Was it the attacking Akechi forces, Nobunaga's retainers, or Nobunaga himself who had set fire inside the temple? The situation was so chaotic that no one could tell.

The smoke began to billow out from the outer temple, from a room in the court, and fromm the kitchen almost all at the same time.

A page and two other men were fighting in the kitchen like demons. It seemed that the monks from the temple kitchen had risen earlythough not one of them was to be seenbecause beneath the huge cauldrons the firewood had been kindled.

The page stood in the door of the kitchen and stabbed at least two of the Akechi men who had broken in. His spear finally taken from him and facing too many of the enemy, he jumped up to the wooden floor and kept the men at bay by throwing kitchen implements and anything else he could lay his hands on.

A tea master and another man who were also there brandished their swords and fought bravely alongside the page. And though the enemy felt scorn for these three lightly armed opponents, a group of samurai was unable to step up onto the wooden floor because of them.

"What's taking so long?"

A warrior who seemed to be the commander looked in, grabbed a firebrand from an oven, and threw it into the faces of the three men. He then threw a firebrand into the store room and one up toward the ceiling.

"Inside!"

"He must be inside!"

Their objective was Nobunaga.

In that instant they pushed their way inside, kicking the burning firewood around with their warriors' straw sandals as they split up inside the building. Flames quickly crawled up the sliding doors and pillars like red-leafed ivy. The figures of the page and the tea master were motionless as the flames enveloped them, too.

The stables were in a complete uproar. Ten or more horses had panicked and were kicking the walls of their stalls, knocking out the boards. Two of them finally broke the crossbars and bucked violently outside. Running wild, they galloped into the center of the Akechi forces while the other horses whinnied more and more violently as they saw the flames. The samurai at the stables left their post and went to defend the steps of the court where Nobunaga had last been seen. Making this their last stand, they were all struck down and fell together.

Even the stableboys, who could have escaped, stayed behind and fought until they were all killed. These men were ordinarily completely inconspicuous, but on this day they silently demonstrated with the sacrifice of their lives that they were not inferior to men who had large stipends or a high rank.

Carrying his blood-soaked spear, an Akechi warrior running from room to room stopped when he saw a comrade through the smoke.

"Minoura?"

"Hey!"

"Have you accomplished anything yet?"

"No, not yet."

Together they searched for Nobunagaor, more accurately, they competed in finding him. Soon they separated, making their way through the smoke.

The fire seemed to have spread beneath the roof, and the inside of the temple was crackling. Even the leather and metal fittings on the warriors' armor felt hot to the touch. In an instant, the only human forms to be seen were either corpses or the warriors of the Akechi, and even a number of the Akechi ran outside as the fire crept along the roofs.

Of the men inside who still stood their ground, some were choking from the smoke while others were covered with ashes. The doors and sliding panels had been kicked out in the hall, and now the flaming gold brocade and pieces of ignited wood swirled thick and fast, burning as brightly as a field on fire. But inside the small rooms and recesses it was dark, and forms were indistinct. Thick with smoke, the various corridors could not even be distinguished.

Ranmaru leaned heavily against the cedar door leading to the room he was guarding and then quietly stood up. With a bloodied spear in hand, he looked to the right and then to the left. Hearing footsteps, he readied his spear.

Focusing his entire being on his sense of hearing, he listened for some sign from the

room. The white figure that had rushed inside just now had been that of the General of he Right, Oda Nobunaga. He had fought until the very end, when he saw that flames were engulfing the temple and that all of the men around him had been struck down and killed. He had fought hand-to-hand with the common soldiers as if he had been one himself. Yet he had made the decision to commit seppuku not simply because he had conidered his reputation and found it regrettable to leave his head to a nonentity. A man's death was predetermined, so he did not even regret the loss of his life. What he did regret losing was the great work of his life.

The Myokaku Temple was nearby. The mansion of the governor was also in the neighborhood. And there were samurai who were lodged inside the city. If by some chance contact was made with the outside, escape might be possible, Nobunaga thought. On the other hand, this inspiration, or rather this conspiracy, had been planned by that kumquat head, Mitsuhide. Mitsuhide's character was such that if he decided to take an action like this, he would carry it out with such care that not even water might leak through. Well then, it was time to be resolved.

Those two thoughts struggled with each other in Nobunaga's mind.

Looking on the corpses of the attendants who had died together in battle, he knew that his final moments were at hand. Quitting the battle, he withdrew into a room and placed Ranmaru outside to guard the door, saying, "If you hear my voice inside, you can take it that I am committing suicide. Put my body under some sliding panels and set them on fire. Until then, do not let the enemy make their way in." As Nobunaga gave these instructions, he looked steadily into Ranmaru's eyes.

The wooden door was secure. Nobunaga gazed for a moment at the yet unmarred gilded paintings on the walls. A thin wisp of smoke began to flow through from somewhere, but it seemed that it would be a little while before the flames would spread inside.

This is a matter of departure. I don't have to hurry.

He felt as though someone were speaking to him. As soon as he had entered the room, he had felteven more than the heat that surrounded him on four sidesa burning thirst. He almost collapsed as he sat down in the center of the room, but quickly reconsidered and moved to the slightly elevated alcove. The area beneath him was ordinarily reserved for his retainers, after all. He imagined a cupful of water running down his throat, and for a moment he made an effort to settle his spirit securely just below his navel. To this purpose, he knelt formally with his legs tucked underneath him, straightened his posture and his clothes, and tried to behave as though his retainers were sitting before him just as they did in ordinary times.

It was a moment before his heavy breathing became peaceful.

Is this what it is to die?

He felt so peaceful that he doubted it himself. He was even aware of a desire to laugh.

So I slipped up too.

Even when he imagined Mitsuhide's shiny bald head, he felt no resentment at all. He is human, too, and had done this out of anger, Nobunaga supposed. His own negligence was the blunder of a lifetime, and he felt sorry that Mitsuhide's anger had been transformed into nothing more than foolish violence. Ah, Mitsuhide, will you not be following me in a few days? he asked.

His left hand held the scabbard of his short sword. His right hand extricated the blade.

There is no need to hurry.

Thus Nobunaga instructed himself. The flames had started to spread to this room. He closed his eyes. As he did so, everything he could recall from his earliest youth right up to the present day flashed through his mind as though he were riding a galloping horse. When he opened his eyes, the gold dust and illustrations on the four walls radiated a bright red. The paintings of the peonies on the coffered ceiling proliferated in flames. It truly took no longer than a single breath for him to die. At the moment of death, some extraordinary function inside his body seemed to be saying farewell to the ordinary reminiscences of the life he had led.

"No regrets!" Nobunaga said out loud.

Ranmaru heard Nobunaga's shout, and ran in. His master, wearing a white silk kimono, already lay facedown on the floor, embracing a flow of fresh blood. Ranmaru pulled the doors from the low closet and placed them over Nobunaga's corpse as though he were making a coffin. Closing the door peacefully once again, he stood back from the alcove. He grasped the short sword with which he, too, might commit seppuku, but his shining eyes settled on Nobunaga's corpse until the room was consumed in flames.

** *

On the first three days of the Sixth Month, the sky over Kyoto was clear and the sun beat down. The weather in the mountainous western provinces, however, alternated between clear skies and clouds. Heavy rainfall had continued until the end of the Fifth Month. Then, for two or three days at the beginning of the Sixth Month, a violent south-west wind blew the ragged clouds from south to north, and the sky continued to change back and forth from bright and clear to cloudy.

Most people, tired of the rain and mildew, hoped for an early end to the rainy season but Hideyoshi's army, which was conducting the long siege of Takamatsu Castle, prayed to the Eight Dragon Kings to send rain and more rain, which was their main weapon on that battlefield. The solitary castle was still completely isolated in the middle of the marshy lake. Sticking out here and there, like hair on someone with a scalp disease, were the trees of a few submerged forests and groves.

In the castle town, only the roofs of the common people's homes remained above the water; the farmhouses in the low-lying areas had already disappeared. Innumerable pieces of decomposing lumber swirled through the muddy current, or floated on the edges of the lake.

At a glance, the ripples of the muddy yellow water appeared to be standing still, but as the soldiers watched the edge of the shore, they could see that the water was invading the dry land inch by inch.

"There are some carefree fellows today! Look over there. They're as happy-go-lucky as you are."

Hideyoshi sat mounted on his horse, speaking to the pages behind him.

"Where?"

The pages all looked with inquisitive faces in the direction in which their master was pointing. Sure enough, playing on top of the driftwood, a number of snowy herons could be seen. The pages, still adolescents, shrugged their shoulders and chuckled. Listening to their childish talk, Hideyoshi lightly whipped his horse and returned to camp.

That was during the evening of the third day of the Sixth Month. There was still no way Hideyoshi could know about what had happened in Kyoto.

Hideyoshi rarely missed his daily rounds of the camp with a retinue of fifty to one hundred attendants. Occasionally pages accompanied the entourage. They carried a large, long-handled umbrella and paraded around with the brilliantly colored commander's standard. The soldiers who witnessed this "royal passage" looked up and thought, That's our Master going by. On the days they didn't see him, they somehow felt that something was missing.

As he rode by, Hideyoshi looked at the soldiers to the right and left, the sweaty and mud-caked troops who found great flavor in food that was barely edible, the soldiers who always had a laugh and hardly knew what boredom was.

Hideyoshi missed the days when he had been part of that exuberant cluster of youth. He had been given the command of the campaign a long five years ago. The battles and bitter fighting that had occurred at Kozuki Castle, Miki Castle, and other places had been gruelling beyond words. But beyond the hardship of battle, as a general he had also met with spiritual crises any number of times.

Nobunaga was a hard man to please, and it had not been easy to serve him at a distance and to keep his mind at ease. And of course, the generals surrounding Nobunaga were not exactly pleased with Hideyoshi's rise. Still, Hideyoshi was grateful, and in the mornings, when he prayed to the sun goddess, he gave thanks with an open heart for all the trials he had gone through in those five years.

A man would not have gone out in search of such ordeals. He himself thought that, no matter what heaven's intentions for him actually were, it had continued to send him difficulty after difficulty. There were days when he felt thankful for the hardships and reversals of his youth, because they had given him the will to survive his own physical weakness.

By this time the strategy for the water attack on Takamatsu Castle had been carried out, and Hideyoshi only waited for Nobunaga to come from the east. On Mount Hizashi, the thirty thousand Mori troops under the commands of Kikkawa and Kobayakawa waited to rescue the isolated castle. During periods of clear weather, Hideyoshi's umbrella and commanders' standard could be clearly seen by the enemy.

Just as Hideyoshi was returning to his quarters that evening, a messenger arrived by the Okayama Road and was immediately surrounded by guards. The road led to Hideyoshi's camp on Mount Ishii, but the traveler could also cross through Hibata and go on to Kobayakawa Takakage's camp at Mount Hizashi by the same route. Naturally, the road as heavily guarded.

The messenger, whipping his horse all the way, had been riding since the day before without stopping to eat or drink. By the time the guards got him back to the camp, he had lost consciousness.

It was the Hour of the Boar. Hideyoshi was still up. When Hikoemon returned, he,

Hideyoshi, and Hori Kyutaro went to the building that served as Hideyoshi's private quarters. There the three men sat together for a long time.

This conference was so secret even the pages had withdrawn. Only the poet Yuko was allowed to remain, and he sat behind the paper screen doors, whisking tea.

Just then, footsteps could be heard hurrying toward the buildings. A strict order had been given to keep the area clear of people, so when the footsteps approached the cedar door, they were met and intercepted with a quick reproach from the pages standing guard.

The pages sounded extremely excited, while the person they had challenged seermed to be impertinent and hot-blooded.

"Yuko, what's going on?" Hideyoshi asked.

"I'm not sure. Maybe it's a page and one of the men on guard duty."

"Take a look."

"Of course."

Yuko stood up and went out, leaving the tea utensils exactly as they were.

Looking outside, he found thatrather than the guard he expectedit was Asai Nagamasa who had been challenged by the pages.

The young pages, however, were not going to announce anyone while their orders were to keep everyone out. It didn't make any difference who it wasAsano or anyone else. Asano had responded that if they would not carry the message, he was going to push his way through. The pages replied that if he wanted to go through, he was welcome try. They may have been nothing more than pages, but they had been given a post, and they were going to demonstrate that they were not there just for decoration.

Yuko first calmed the stubborn young guards, then asked, "Lord Asano, what's the matter?"

Asano showed him the letter case he held in his hand and told him about the messenger who had just arrived from Kyoto. He had heard that the meeting was private, but thought the message was not some trivial matter and so he wanted to talk to his lord for a moment.

"Wait just a moment, please." Yuko went back inside but quickly returned and invited Asano to come in.

Asano stepped in with a sidelong glance at the next room. The pages inside were silent. Looking the other way, they completely ignored him.

Moving aside a short standing lamp, Hideyoshi turned toward Asano, who had entered the room.

"I'm sorry to disturb you during a conference."

"That's all right. There's been a dispatch, it seems. Who is it from?"

"I've been told it's from Hasegawa Sojin, my lord."

Asano held out the message case. The red lacquer on the leather shone brighdy in the lamplight.

"A dispatch from Sojin?" Hideyoshi said, taking the case.

Hasegawa Sojin was Nobunaga's companion in tea. He was not on particularly intimate terms with Hideyoshi, so it was strange that the tea master would suddenly be sending an urgent message to his camp. Moreover, according to Nagamasa, the messenger had left Kyoto at noon the previous day and had arrived just now, at the Hour of the Boar.

That meant it had taken him one full day and half a night to travel the seventy leagues from the capital to the camp. That was not an easy pace, even for a courier. There is no doubt that he had neither eaten nor drunk on the way and that he had ridden through the night.

"Hikoemon, bring the lamp a little closer."

Hideyoshi bent down and unrolled Sojin's letter. It was short and had obviously been written in a hurry. But with a single reading, the hair on the back of Hideyoshi's neck stood up in the lamplight.

The other men had been sitting behind Hideyoshi, a little way off, but when his color changed from the nape of his neck to his ears, Kyutaro, Asano, and Hikoemon all leaned forward in spite of themselves.

Asano asked, "My lord what has happened?"

In the instant he was questioned, Hideyoshi came back to himself. Almost as though he doubted the words contained in the letter, he forced himself to read them once more. Then his tears began to fall onto the letter about whose contents there now could be no doubt.

"My lord, why these tears?" Hikoemon asked.

"This is not like you at all, my lord."

"Is it bad news?"

All three men imagined that the message had something to do with Hideyoshi's mother, whom he had left in Nagahama.

During the campaign, the men seldom spoke about their home provinces; but when they did, Hideyoshi always talked about his mother, so now they imagined that she was either seriously ill or had died.

Hideyoshi finally wiped away his tears and sat a little straighter. As he did so, he assumed a grave look, and his intense grief appeared to be pierced with an acute anger. Such intense rage was not usually felt at the death of a parent.

"I haven't the strength to tell you in words. The three of you come and look at this." He handed them the letter and looked the other way, hiding his tears with his arm.

Upon reading the letter, the three men looked as though they had been hit with a thunderbolt. Nobunaga and Nobutada were dead. Could it be true? Was the world so mysterious? Kyutaro, in particular, had met with Nobunaga just before coming to Mount Ishii. He had come here, after all, on Nobunaga's orders, and now he looked at the letter over and over again, unable to believe what it said. Both Kyutaro and Hikoemon shed tears, and the lamp, submerged in the gloom, could have been extinguished by those tears alone. Hideyoshi flinched impatiently, shifting his weight as he sat. He had come to grips with himself, and his lips were tightly shut.

"Hey! Somebody come here!" he shouted toward the pages' room. It was a shout loud enough to pierce the ceiling, and both Hikoemon and Asanowho were men of great couragewere so surprised that they nearly jumped up from their cushions. After all, Hideyoshi had been so sunk in tears that his spirit seemed to have been completely crushed.

"Yes, my lord!" a page replied. Vigorous footsteps accompanied the response. Hearing those footsteps and Hideyoshi's voice, Kyutaro and Hikoemon's grief was suddenly blown away.

"My lord?"

"Who is that?" Hideyoshi asked.

"Ishida Sakichi, my lord."

The short-statured Sakichi advanced from the shadow of the sliding door to the next room. Coming out to the middle of the tatami, he turned toward the lamp in the conference room and bowed with his hands pressed to the floor.

"Sakichi, run over to Kanbei's camp. Tell him that I need to talk with him right away. Hurry!"

If the situation had permitted, Hideyoshi would have liked to weep out loud. He had served Nobunaga from the age of seventeen. His head had been patted by the mans hands, and his own hands had carried his master's straw sandals. And now that master was no longer in the world. The relationship between Nobunaga and himself had been in no sense ordinary. It had been a relationship of one blood, one faith, and one life ar death. Unexpectedly, the master had departed first, and Hideyoshi was aware that, from this time forth, he was in charge of his own life.

No one knew me as he did, Hideyoshi thought. In his last moments in the flames of the Honno Temple, he must have called out to me in his heart and left me with a trust. Insignificant as I am, I am not going to turn my back on my lord and his trust in me. Thus Hideyoshi made a pledge to himself. It was not a vain lamentation. His belief was simple: just before Nobunaga had died, he had left Hideyoshi with his dying instructions.

He was able to understand how deep his lord's resentment must have been. Judging by Nobunaga's attitude, Hideyoshi was able to imagine the regret in Nobunaga's breast as he left the world with his work half done. When he considered the matter from this point of view, Hideyoshi was no longer able to grieve. Nor was there time to think about plans for the future. His body was in the west, but his mind was already facing the enerny Akechi Mitsuhide.

But there was also the question of how to deal with the enemy in front of him in Takamatsu Castle. And how was he to handle the thirty-thousand-man army of the Mori? How could he shift his position to Kyoto as quickly as possible from a battlefield in the western provinces? How to crush Mitsuhide; the problems that lay before him stretched out like a range of mountains.

He seemed to have reached a decision. He had one chance in a thousand, and his resolution to stake his life on a single possibility showed on his determined brow.

"Where is the messenger now?" Hideyoshi asked Asano, almost as soon as the page had left.

"I ordered the samurai to have him wait by the main temple," Asano answered.

Hideyoshi signaled at Hikoemon.

"Take him to the kitchen and give him something to eat. But keep him locked up in a room and don't let anyone talk to him," he ordered.

Seeing Hikoemon stand up to go with a knowing nod, Asano asked if he should go as well.

Hideyoshi shook his head. "No, I have another order for you, so wait just a moment, he said. "Asano, I want you to select some of the samurai under your command who have good ears and quick feet, and station them on all the roads from Kyoto to the Mori domain. I don't want even water to leak through. Arrest everyone who looks suspicious. Even if they don't look suspicious, investigate their identities and examine what they're carrying with them. This is extremely important. Go quickly, and be careful."

Asano left immediately. Now the only ones who remained were Kyutaro and Yuko.

"What time is it now, Yuko?"

"It's the second half of the Hour of the Boar."

"Today was the third of the month, right?"

"That's correct."

"Tomorrow's the fourth," he mumbled to himself. "Then the fifth." His eyes closed halfway, and he moved his fingers on his knee as though he were counting.

"It's difficult for me to just sit here. Won't you give me some orders?" Kyutaro begged.

"No, I want you to stay here a little longer," Hideyoshi said, trying to soothe the man's impatience. "Kanbei should be here soon. I know that Hikoemon went to take care of the courier, but while we have some free moments, why don't you go double-check?"

Kyutaro immediately got up and went off to the temple kitchen. The courier was in a small room next to the kitchen, hungrily eating some food that had been given to him. The man had not drunk or eaten anything since noon the day before, and when he finally finished filling himself, he sat back with a bulging stomach.

When Hikoemon saw that the man had finished, he beckoned him over and accompanied him to a room in the priests' quarters, the storeroom for the sutras. Telling him to sleep well, Hikoemon showed the courier into the room and locked the door securely from the outside. Just then, Kyutaro stepped quietly to Hikoemon's side and whispered in his ear.

"His Lordship is worried that news of the incident in Kyoto might leak out to the men."

Kyutaro's eyes revealed his intention to kill the messenger, but Hikoemon shook his head. After they had walked a few steps, Hikoemon said, "He'll probably die right where he is from overeating. Let's let him die innocently."

Looking toward the sutra room, Hikoemon held an extended palm out from his chest in prayer.


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