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Koroku's Gun

A few miles from Kiyosu, less than ten miles west of Nagoya, was the village of Hachisuka. Upon entering the village, a hat-shaped hill was visible from almost any direction. In the thick summer groves at noon, only the song of the cicadas could be heard; at night the silhouettes of large bats on the wing swept across the face of the moon.

"Yo!"

"Yo!" came the reply, like an echo, from within the grove.

The moat that took its waters from the Kanie River passed around the cliffs and large trees on the hill. If you didn't look closely, you probably wouldn't notice that the water was full of the dark blue-green algae found in old natural ponds. The algae clung to the weathered stone ramparts and earthen walls that had protected the land for a hundred years, and, along with it, the descendants of the lords of the area, and their power and livelihood.

From the outside, it was almost impossible to guess how many thousands or even tens of thousands of acres of residential land were on the hill. The mansion belonged to a powerful provincial clan of the village of Hachisuka, and its lords had gone under the childhood name of Koroku for many generations. The incumbent lord was called Hachisuka Koroku.

"Yooo! Open the gate!" The voices of four or five men came from beyond the moat. One of them was Koroku.

If the truth were known, neither Koroku nor his forebears possessed the pedigree they boasted of, nor had they held rights to the land and its administration. They were a powerful provincial clan, but nothing more. Though Koroku was known as a lord, and these men as his retainers, there was, in fact, something rough and ready about this household. A certain intimacy was natural between the head of a household and his

retainers, but Koroku's relationship with his men was more like that which existed between a gang boss and his henchmen.

"What's he doing?" Koroku muttered.

"Gatekeeper, what's keeping you?" yelled a retainer, not for the first time.

"Yooo!"

This time, they heard the gatekeeper's response, and the wooden gate opened with a thud.

"Who is it?" They were challenged from the left and right by men carrying metal lamps shaped like bells on stalks, which could be carried on the battlefield or in the rain.

"It's Koroku," he answered, bathed in the lamplight.

"Welcome home."

The men identified themselves as they passed through the gate.

"Inada Oinosuke."

"Aoyama Shinshichi."

"Nagai Hannojo."

"Matsubara Takumi."

They proceeded with heavy footsteps down a wide, dark corridor and into the interior of the house. All along the corridor, the faces of servants, the women of the hous hold, wives and childrenthe many individuals who made up this extended family-greeted the chief of the clan, come back from the outside world. Koroku returned the greetings, giving each at least a glance, and arriving at the main hall, he sat down heavily on a round straw mat. The light from a small lamp clearly showed the lines on his face. Was he in a bad mood? wondered the women anxiously, while they brought water, tea and black bean cakes.

"Oinosuke?" Koroku said after a while, turning to the retainer sitting farthest away from him. "We were well shamed this evening, were we not?"

"We were," Oinosuke agreed.

The four men sitting with Koroku looked bitter. Koroku seemed to have no outlet for his bad mood. "Takumi, Hannojo. What do you think?"

"About what?"

"This evening's embarrassment! Wasn't the name of the Hachisuka clan shamefully blackened?"

The four men withdrew into a deep silence. The night was sultry, with no hint of a breeze. The smoke from the mosquito-repellent incense drifted into their eyes.

Earlier that day, Koroku had received an invitation from an important Oda retainer to attend a tea ceremony. He had never had a taste for such things, but the guests would all be prominent people in Owari, and it would be a good chance to meet them. If he had turned down the invitation, he would have been ridiculed. People would have said, "How pretentious they are, putting on airs. Why, he's nothing more than the leader of a gang of ronin. He was probably afraid to show his ignorance of the tea ceremony."

Koroku and four of his followers had gone to the affair in a very dignified manner. During the tea ceremony, an akae water pitcher had caught the eye of one of the guests and in the course of the conversation, a comment had slipped carelessly from his lips.

"How odd," he said. "I'm sure I've seen this pitcher at the house of Sutejiro, the pottery merchant. Isn't it the famous piece of akae ware that was stolen by bandits?"

The host, who was inordinately fond of the pitcher, was naturally shocked. "That's absurd! I only recentiy bought this from a shop in Sakai for nearly one thousand pieces of gold!" He even went so far as to show a receipt.

"Well," the guest persisted, "the thieves must have sold it to a Sakai dealer, and through one transaction after another it finally came to your honored house. The man who broke into the pottery merchant's house was Watanabe Tenzo of Mikuriya. There is no doubt about that."

A chill went through the assembled guests. Clearly the man who spoke so freely knew nothing about the family tree of his fellow guest, Hachisuka Koroku. But the master of the house and quite a number of the other guests were well aware that Watanabe Tenzo was Koroku's nephew and one of his chief allies. Before he left that day, Koroku swore to investigate the matter fully. Koroku had felt himself dishonored, and had returned home angry and ashamed. None of his dejected kinsmen could come up with a plan. If it had been a matter involving their own families or retainers, they could have dealt with it, but the incident revolved around Tenzo, who was Koroku's nephew. Tenzo's household in Mikuriya was an offshoot of this one in Hachisuka, and he always had twenty to thirty ronin in residence.

Koroku was even angrier because he was related to Tenzo. "This is outrageous," he growled, feeling contempt for Tenzo's evil ways. "I've been stupid, ignoring Tenzo's recent behavior. He's taken to dressing up in fine clothes and keeping a number of women. He's brought the family name into disrepute. We'll have to get rid of him. As it is, the Hachisuka clan will be seen to be no different from a band of thieves or a bunch of shameless ronin. A sad state of affairs for a family that is usually regarded as one of the leading provincial clans. Even I, Hachisuka Koroku, hear in public that I am the leader of bandits."

Hannojo and Oinosuke looked down at the ground, embarrassed at suddenly seeing tears of grief in Koroku's eyes.

"Listen, all of you!" Koroku looked directly at his men. "The roof tiles of this mansion bear the crest of the manji cross. Although it is now covered with moss, the crest has been passed down from the time of my distant ancestor, Lord Minamoto Yorimasa, to whom it was awarded by Prince Takakura for raising an army loyal to him. Our family once served the shoguns, but from the time of Hachisuka Taro, we lost our influence. So now we are merely another provincial clan. Surely we're not going to rot away in the country and do nothing about it. No, I, Hachisuka Koroku, have vowed that the time has come! I have been waiting for the day when I might restore our family name and show the world a thing or two."

"This is what you've always said."

"I have told you before that you must think before you act, and protect the weak. My nephew's character has not improved. He has broken into the house of a merchant and done the work of a thief in the night." Chewing his lip, Koroku realized that the matter had to be settled. "Oinosuke, Shinshichi. The two of you will go to Mikuriya, tonight. Bring Tenzo here but don't tell him the reason. He has a number of armed men with him. He's not a man, as they say, to let himself be captured with a single length of rope."

The following dawn came amid the chirping of birds in the forested hills. One house among the fortifications caught the morning sun early.

"Matsu, Matsu!"

Matsunami, Koroku's wife, peeked into the bedroom. Koroku was awake, lying on his side under the mosquito netting.

"Have the men I sent to Mikuriya last night returned yet?"

"No, not yet."

"Hm," Koroku grunted, a concerned look on his face. Although his nephew was a villain who did nothing but evil, he had a sharp mind. If this turned ugly, would he sense it and try to escape? They're rather late, he thought again.

His wife untied the mosquito netting. Their son, Kameichi, who was playing at the edge of the net, was not quite two years old.

"Hey! Come here." Koroku embraced the child and held him at arm's length. As plump as the children in Chinese paintings, the boy felt heavy, even in his father's arms.

"What's the matter? Your eyelids are red and swollen." Koroku licked at Kameichi's eyes. The boy, turning restive, pulled and scratched at his father's face.

"He must have been eaten up by the mosquitoes," his mother replied.

"If it's just mosquitoes, it's nothing to worry about."

"He frets so, even when he's asleep. He keeps slipping out from under the net."

"Don't let him get cold when he's asleep."

"Of course I won't."

"And be careful of smallpox."

"Don't even talk about it."

"He's our first child. You might say he's the prize of our first campaign."

Koroku was young and sturdy. He shook off the pleasure of the moment and strode out of the room, like a man who had some great purpose to achieve. He was not one to sit indoors and peacefully sip his morning tea. When he had changed his clothes and washed his face, he went into the garden, walking with great strides toward the sound of hammering.

Along one side of the narrow path were two small smithies that had been built in a area where huge trees had been fairly recently cut down. This was the middle of a forest where no ax, until now, had touched a tree since the days of Koroku's forefathers.

The gunsmith, Kuniyoshi, whom Koroku had secretly summoned from the city of Sakai, was at work with his apprentices.

"How's it going?" he asked. Kuniyoshi and his men prostrated themselves on the dirt floor. "No luck yet, eh? Are you still unable to copy the firearm you're using as a model?

"We've tried this and we've tried that. We've gone without sleep and food, but"

Koroku nodded. Just then a low-ranking retainer came up to him and said, "My lord the two men you sent to Mikuriya have just come back."

"Have they, now?"

"Yes, my lord."

"Did they bring Tenzo back with them?"

"Yes, my lord."

"Good!" Koroku nodded approvingly. "Have him wait."

"Inside?"

"Yes. I'll be there soon."

Koroku was an able strategistthe clan depended on him for itbut there was another side to his character: a tendency to be softhearted. He could be stern, but he could be moved by tears, especially where his own flesh and blood were concerned. He had made up his mind, though: he must do away with his nephew this morning. But he seemed to hesitate, and stayed for quite some time watching Kuniyoshi work.

"It's only natural," he said. "After all, firearms just arrived here seven or eight years go. Since then, samurai clans in all the provinces have vied with each other to produce guns or buy them from the ships of the European barbarians. Here in Owari we have a tactical advantage. There must be many country samurai in the north and east who have never even seen firearms. You haven't made one before, either, so take your time and work carefully by trial and error. If you can make one, you can make a hundred, and we'll have them on hand for later."

"My lord!" The retainer came back and knelt on the dew-covered ground. "They're waiting for you."

Koroku turned to him. "I'll be there soon. They can wait a bit longer."

While Koroku was determined to make the costly sacrifice of punishing his nephew or justice' sake, he was torn by a conflict between his sense of what was right and his own feelings. As he was about to leave, he spoke to Kuniyoshi again, "Within the year you'll be able to make ten or twenty serviceable firearms, won't you?"

"Yes," said the smith, who, conscious of his responsibility, had a serious expression on his sooty face. "If I can make one that I feel is right, I can make forty or even a hundred."

"It's the first one that's difficult, eh?"

"You spend so much money on me."

"Don't worry about it."

"Thank you, my lord."

"I don't suppose the fighting will let up next year, the year after that, or in the years following. When the grasses on this earth all wither, and the buds begin to sprout againwell, do the best you can to finish it quickly."

"I'll put everything I have into it."

"Remember, it's to be done in secret."

"Yes, my lord."

"The sound of the hammer is a little too loud. Can you work so it won't be heard outside the moat?"

"I'll be careful about that, too."

On his way out of the smithy, Koroku saw a gun propped next to the bellows. "And that?" he asked, pointing to it. "Is it the model, or one that you've made?"

"It's brand-new."

"Well, let me see it."

"I'm afraid it's not quite ready for your inspection yet."

"Never mind. I have a good target for it. Will it fire?"

"The ball flies out, but no matter what I do, I can't make the mechanism engage as it does in the original. I'll try harder to make something that will work."

"Testing is also an important job. Let me have it."

Taking it from Kuniyoshi's hands, Koroku rested the barrel of the gun on his crooked elbow and made as if aiming it at a target. Just then, Inada Oinosuke appeared at the door of the smithy.

"Oh, you haven't finished yet."

Koroku turned toward Oinosuke with the butt of the gun pressed against his ribs.

"Well?"

"I think you should come quickly. We were able to talk Tenzo into coming along with us, but he seems to think it strange and acts nervous. If things go wrong, he may tun into the tiger breaking out of his cage, as the proverb goes."

"Very well, I'm coming."

Handing the gun to Oinosuke, Koroku walked with long strides down the path through the forest.

Watanabe Tenzo sat just outside the study wondering what was going on. What kind of emergency had caused him to be summoned here? Aoyama Shinshichi, Nagai Hannojo, Matsubara Takumi, and Inada Oinosukethe trusted retainers of the Hachisuka clanall sat next to him, carefully observing his every movement. Tenzo had begun to feel uneasy as soon as he had arrived. He was thinking of making up some excuse and leaving when he caught sight of Koroku in the garden.

"Ah, Uncle." Tenzo's greeting was accompanied by a forced smile.

Koroku looked impassively at his nephew. Oinosuke rested the butt of the gun on the ground.

"Tenzo, come out into the garden, won't you?" he said. His appearance was no different from normal. Tenzo was a little reassured.

"They told me to come quickly, said there was some urgent business to take care of.

"That's right."

"What sort of business?"

"Well, come over here."

Tenzo put on a pair of straw sandals and went out into the garden. Hannojo and Takumi went with him.

"Stand there," Koroku commanded, sitting down on a large rock and raising the gun Tenzo realized in an instant that his uncle was going to take aim at him, but there was nothing he could do. The other men stood around him, as inert as stones on a go board. The leader of the bandits of Mikuriya had been placed in check. His face went livid. Invisible flames of anger radiated from Koroku. The look on his face told Tenzo tha words would be useless.

"Tenzo!"

"Yes?"

"Surely you haven't forgotten the things I've told you over and over again?"

"I keep them firmly in my mind."

"You were born a human being in a world in chaos. The most shameful things are vanity in clothing, vanity in eating, and oppressing ordinary, peaceable people. The so-called great provincial clans do these things, and so do the ronin. The family of Hachisuka Koroku is not like them, and I believe I've already cautioned you about this."

"Yes, you have."

"Our family alone has pledged to harbor great hopes and fulfill them. We have vowed not to oppress the farmers, not to act like thieves, and if we become the rulers of a province, to see to it that prosperity is shared by all."

"Yes, we have."

"Who has broken this pledge?" Koroku asked. Tenzo was mute. "Tenzo! You have abused the military strength I have entrusted to you. You have put it to evil use, doing the work of a thief in the night. It was you who broke into the pottery shop in Shinkawa and stole the akae pitcher, wasn't it?"

Tenzo looked as if he was about to make a break for it.

Koroku stood up and thundered, "You swine! Sit down! Do you want to run away?"

"I I won't run." His voice quavered. He slumped down on the grass and sat as though fastened to the ground.

"Tie him up!" Koroku barked to his retainers. Matsubara Takumi and Aoyama Shinshichi were instantiy on Tenzo. They twisted his hands behind his back and tied them with his sword knot. When Tenzo clearly understood that his crime had been exposed and that he was in danger, his pale face became a little more resolute and defiant.

"U-u-uncle, what are you going to do with me? I know you're my uncle, but this is beyond reason."

"Shut up!"

"I swear, I don't remember doing what you're talking about."

"Shut up!"

"Who told you such a thing?"

"Are you going to be quiet or not?"

"Uncle you are my uncle, aren't you? If there was such a rumor going around, couldn't you have asked me about it?"

"Never mind the cowardly excuses."

"But for the head of a large clan to act on rumors without investigating them"

Needless to say, this whining was repugnant to Koroku. He raised the gun and rested it in the crook of his elbow.

"You scum. You're just the living target I need to try out this new weapon that Kuniyoshi's just made for me. You two, take him over to the fence and tie him to a tree."

Shinshichi and Takumi gave Tenzo a shove and grabbed him by the scruff of the neck. They marched him all the way to the far end of the garden, which was far enough away that a poor archer would not be able to shoot an arrow the entire distance.

"Uncle! I have something to say. Hear me out, just once!" Tenzo yelled. His voice, and the despair in it, were plain for all to hear. Koroku ignored him. Oinosuke had brought a fuse. Koroku took it and, after loading a ball into the musket, took aim at his frantically screaming nephew.

"I did wrong! I confess! Please hear me out!"

As unimpressed as their lord, the men stood silently, braced themselves, and watched. After several minutes, Tenzo fell silent. His head hung down. Perhaps he was contemplating death. Or maybe he was a broken man.

"It's no good!" Koroku murmured. He took his eyes from the target. "Even when I pull the trigger, the ball does not come out. Oinosuke, run over to the smithy and get Kuniyoshi."

When the smith came, Koroku held out the gun to him, saying, "I tried to fire just now, but it doesn't work. Fix it."

Kuniyoshi examined the musket. "It cannot be repaired easily, my lord," he said.

"How long will it take?"

"Maybe I can do it by this evening."

"Can't you do it sooner than that? The living target I'm going to try it out on is waiting."

Only then did the blacksmith realize that Tenzo was meant to be the target. "Your your nephew?" he stammered.

Koroku ignored the remark. "You're a gunsmith now. It would be good if you your energy into making a gun. If you could finish it even one day earlier than planned, that would be good. Tenzo's an evil man, but he is a relative, and instead of dying a dogs death, he'll have made a contribution if he's put to some use in trying out a gun. Now on with your job."

"Yes, my lord."

"What are you waiting for?" Koroku's eyes were like signal fires. Even without looking up, Kuniyoshi felt their heat. He took the gun and scurried off to the smithy.

"Takumi, give some water to our living target," Koroku ordered. "Have at least three men stand guard over him until the gun is repaired." Then he went back to the main house to have breakfast.

Takumi, Oinosuke, and Shinshichi also left the garden. Nagai Hannojo was to return to his own home that day, and he soon announced his departure. At about the same time, Matsubara Takumi left on an errand, so only Inada Oinosuke and Aoyama Shinshich remained in the residence on the hill.

The sun climbed higher. It got hotter. The cicadas droned, and the only living creatures moving in the broiling heat were ants crawling over the baked paving stones in the garden. The furious sound of hammering erupted spasmodically from the smithy. How must it have sounded to Tenzo's ears?

"Isn't the gun ready yet?" Each time the stern voice came from Koroku's room, Aoyama Shinshichi ran to the smithy through the scorching heat. He would come back to the veranda each time, saying, "It'll take a little longer," and then report on how the work was progressing.

Koroku napped fitfully, his arms and legs outstretched. Shinshichi, too, tired from the previous day's excitement, finally dozed off.

They were roused by the voice of one of the guards shouting, "He's escaped!"

"Master Shinshichi! He's escaped! Come quickly!"

Shinshichi ran out into the garden barefoot.

"The master's nephew has killed two guards and run away!" The man's face was exactly the color of clay.

Shinshichi ran along with the guard, shouting back over his shoulder, "Tenzo's killed two guards and escaped!"

"What?" shouted Koroku, suddenly awakened from his nap. The chirping of the cicadas went on uninterrupted. Almost in a single motion, he jumped to his feet and put on the sword that was always by his side when he slept. Bounding off the veranda, he soon caught up with Shinshichi and the guard.

When they got to the tree, Tenzo was nowhere to be seen. At the base of the tree lay a single piece of unknotted hemp rope. About ten paces away, a corpse lay facedown. They found the other guard propped against the foot of the wall, his head split open like a ripe pomegranate. The two bodies were drenched with blood, looking as though someone had splashed it all over them. The heat of the day had soon dried the blood on the grass, blackening it to the color of lacquer; the smell had attracted swarms of flies.

"Guard!"

"Yes, my lord." The man threw himself at Koroku's feet.

"Tenzo had both hands tied with his sword knot and was bound to the tree with a hemp rope. How did he manage to slip out of the rope? As far as I can see, it hasn't been cut.

"Yes, well we untied it."

"Who?"

"One of the dead guards."

"Why was he untied? And with whose permission?"

"At first we didn't listen to him, but your nephew said he had to relieve himself. He said he couldn't stand it, and"

"You fool!" Koroku roared at the guard, barely able to keep himself from stamping on the ground. "How could you fall for an old trick like that? You oaf!"

"Master, please forgive me. Your nephew told us you were a kind man at heart, and asked if we really believed you were going to kill your own nephew. He said he was being punished just to make an impression, and because you were conducting a full investigation, he would be forgiven by nightfall. Then he said that if we didn't listen to him, we rere going to suffer for making him suffer so. Finally, one of them untied him and went with him and the other guard, so that he might relieve himself in the shade of those trees over there."

"Well?"

"Then I heard a scream. He killed both of them, and I ran to the house to tell you what happened."

"Which way did he go?"

"The last time I saw him, he had his hands on top of the wall, so I suppose he went over it. I think I heard something hitting the water in the moat."

"Shinshichi, run him down. Get men onto the road to the village right away." After giving these orders, he himself dashed off in the direction of the front gate with frightening energy.

Kuniyoshi, covered in sweat, was unaware of what had happened and heedless of the passage of time. Only the gun existed for him, nothing else. Sparks from the forge flew about him. At long last he had fashioned the part he needed from iron filings. Relieved at having done his job, he cradled the musket in his arms. Still, he was not fully confident that the ball would come flying out of the barrel. He pointed the empty gun at the wall and tested it. As he pulled the trigger, it gave a satisfying click.

Ah, it seems to be all right, he thought. But it would be a great embarrassment 1 hand it over to Koroku and have him find yet another defect. He rammed gunpowder and a ball into the barrel, filled the primer pan, pointed the muzzle at the ground, an fired. With a loud report, the ball dug a small crater into the ground.

I've done it!

Thinking of Koroku, he reloaded the gun and hurried from the hut and along the path through the dense trees that led to the garden.

"Hey, there!" cried a man barely visible in the shadow of a tree.

Kuniyoshi stopped. "Who is it?" he asked.

"It's me."

"Who?"

"Watanabe Tenzo."

"Eh? The master's nephew!"

"Don't look so surprised. Though I can understand why. This morning I was tied up to a tree, ready to be used to try out a gun. And now here I am."

"What happened?"

"That doesn't concern you. It's a matter between uncle and nephew. He gave me good dressing down."

"He did, did he?"

"Listen, just now at Shirahata pond in the village, the farmers and some samurai from the neighborhood have gotten into a fight. My uncle, Oinosuke, Shinshichi, and their men went over there. I'm supposed to follow them right away. Were you able to finish the gun?"

I was.

"Let me have it."

"Are those Lord Koroku's orders?"

"Yes. Give it to me. If the enemy escapes, we won't be able to try it out."

Tenzo snatched the gun from Kuniyoshi's hand and disappeared into the forest.

"This is odd," thought the blacksmith. He started after Tenzo, who was making his way through the trees along the outer wall. He saw him climb the wall and jump, landing just short of the other side of the moat. Up to his chest in the fetid water, he lost no time in splashing the rest of the way across like a wild animal.

"Ah! He's escaping! Help! Over here!" Kuniyoshi yelled as loud as he could from the top of the wall.

Tenzo crawled out of the water looking like a muddy rat and turned toward Kuniyoshi. He aimed the gun and fired.

The gun made a ghastly noise. Kuniyoshi's body tumbled from the earthen wall. Tenzo ran across the fields, bounding like a leopard in flight.

* * *

"Assemble!"

The notice was issued under the signature of the head of the clan, Hachisuka Koroku. By evening, the mansion was filled with samurai, both inside and outside the gate.

"A battle?"

"What do you suppose has happened?" they asked, excited by the prospect of fighting. Although they usually plowed their fields, sold silk cocoons, raised horses, and went to market just like ordinary farmers and merchants, fundamentally they were quite different from them. They gloried in their martial bloodlines and were discontented with their lot. If the opportunity presented itself, they would not hesitate to take up arms to challenge fate and create a storm. Men like these had been stalwarts of the clan for generations.

Oinosuke and Shinshichi stood outside the walls, giving directions.

"Go around to the garden."

"Don't make so much noise."

"Go through the main gate." The men were all armed with long battle swords; as members of a provincial clan, however, they were not in full armor, but wore only gaundets and shin guards.

"We're going into battle," one man guessed.

The borders of the Hachisuka domain were not clearly defined. These men belonged to no castle, nor had they sworn allegiance to any lord. They had neither clear allies nor enemies. But now and again they would go to war when the clan's lands were invaded, or when it entered into alliances with the local lord; or when it hired its men out as mercenaries and agitators to the lords of distant provinces. Some clan leaders called their troops out for money, but Koroku had never been tempted by personal gain. The neighboring Oda recognized this, as did the Tokugawa of Mikawa and the Imagawa of Suruga. The Hachisuka was only one among several powerful provincial families, but it had prestige enough that no other clan threatened its lands.

Notice having been given, the entire clan appeared at once. Gathered together in the spacious garden, they looked up at their leader. He stood on a man-made hill, as silent as a stone statue, under the moon hanging in the twilight sky. His armor was of black leather, and he wore a long sword at his side. Although his equipment seemed light, there was no mistaking the dignity of the head of a warrior clan.

To the hushed assembly of almost two hundred men, Koroku announced that as of that day Watanabe Tenzo was no longer a member of their clan. After clearly setting forth the circumstances, he apologized for his own unworthiness. "Our current predicament comes from my own negligence. For running away, Tenzo must be punished with death. We will leave no stone unturned, no blade of grass unparted. If we allow him to live, the Hachisuka will bear the mark of thieves for a hundred years. For the sake of our honor, for our ancestors and for our descendants, we must hunt Tenzo down. Do not think of him as my nephew. He is a traitor!"

As he finished his speech, a scout returned at a dead run. "Tenzo and his men are in Mikuriya," he reported. "They expect an attack and are fortifying the village."

When they learned that their enemy was Watanabe Tenzo, the men seemed a little dispirited, but on hearing the circumstances, they rallied to restore the honor of the clan. With resolute step they descended on the armory, where there was an astonishing array of weapons. In the past, weapons and armor had often been abandoned in the field after every battle. Now, with no end in sight to the civil war, and the country plunged into darkness and instability, weapons had become highly prized possessions. They could found in the house of any farmer, and, second only to foodstuffs, a spear or a sword could be sold for ready cash.

A considerable number of the weapons in the armory had been there almost since the clan was founded, and the store had increased rapidly in Koroku's time, but there were no firearms in it. The fact that Tenzo had run off with their only gun had made Koroku so furious that only action could quell his anger. He considered his nephew animalcutting him to pieces was too good for him. He vowed he would not take off armor or sleep until he had Tenzo's head.

Koroku set out for Mikuriya at the head of his troops.

As they got close to the village the column halted. A scout was sent forward and came back to report that the redness in the night sky was caused by fires set by Tenzo and his men, who were plundering the village. When they moved on, they were met on the road by fleeing villagers carrying their children, the sick, and household goods, and leading their livestock. On meeting the men of Hachisuka, they became even more frightened

Aoyama Shinshichi reassured them. "We have not come to plunder," he said. I have come to punish of Watanabe Tenzo and his ruffians."

The villagers quieted down and gave vent to their resentment over Tenzo's atrocities His crimes did not stop at stealing a pitcher from Sutejiro. Besides collecting the annual land tax for the lord of the province, he had made his own rules and collected a second tax, calling it "protection money" for the rice paddies and fields. He had taken over the dams in the lakes and rivers, and had charged what he called "water money." If anyone dared voice discontent, Tenzo sent men to ravage his fields and paddies. Also, by threaening to massacre entire households, he put a damper on any ideas about secretly informing the lord of the province. In any event, the lord was too preoccupied with military matters to be concerned about such details as law and order.

Tenzo and his confederates did what they liked: they gambled, they slaughtered and ate cows and chickens on the shrine grounds, they kept women, and they turned the shrine into an armory.

"What has Tenzo's gang been up to tonight?" Shinshichi asked.

The villagers all spoke at once. It turned out that the rogues had started by taking spears and halberds from the shrine. They were drinking sake and screaming about fighting to the death, when suddenly they began looting the houses and setting them on fire. Finally they regrouped and ran away with their weapons, food, and anything of value. It seemed that by making a lot of noise about fighting to the death, they hoped to put off any would-be pursuers.

Have I been outmaneuvered? Koroku wondered. He stamped on the ground and ordered the villagers to return to their homes. His men followed, and together they tried get the fires under control. Koroku restored the desecrated shrine and, at dawn, bowed low in prayer.

"Although Tenzo represents only a branch of our family, his evil deeds have become the crimes of the entire Hachisuka clan. I ask forgiveness, and I swear that he will punished by death, that these villagers will be put at ease, and that I will make rich offerings to the gods of this shrine."

While he prayed, his troops stood quietly on either side.

"Can this be the leader of a gang of bandits?" the villagers asked one another. They were confused and suspicious, as well they might be, for in the name of the Hachisuka, Watanabe Tenzo had committed many crimes. Since he was Koroku's nephew, they gave a collective shudder, assuming that because this man was Tenzo's chief, he was like him. Koroku, for his part, knew that if he did not have the gods and the people on his side, he was bound to fail.

At last the men sent after Tenzo came back. "Tenzo has a force of about seventy men," they reported. "Their tracks show that they went into the mountains at Higashi Kasugai and are fleeing toward the Mino road."

Koroku issued commands: "Half of you will return to guard Hachisuka. Half of the remainder will stay here to help the villagers and maintain public order. The rest will go with me."

Having divided his forces, he had no more than forty or fifty men to go after Tenzo. After going through Komaki and Kuboshiki, they caught up with a part of the band. Tenzo had put lookouts along various roads, and when they saw they were being followed, his men began taking a roundabout route. There were reports that they were going down from the Seto peak to the village of Asuke.

It was around noon of the fourth day after the burning of Mikuriya. It was hot. The roads were steep, and Tenzo's men had to keep their armor on. The band was obviously tired of running. Along the roads they had abandoned packs and horses, gradually lightening their load, and by the time they got to the ravine of the Dozuki River, they were famished, exhausted, and drenched with sweat. As they drank, Koroku's small force slid down both sides of the ravine in a pincer attack. Stones and boulders rained down on the fugitives, and the waters of the river soon ran red with blood. Some were run through; some were beaten to death; some were thrown into the river. These were men who ordinarily were on good terms, and the blood tiesuncle and nephew, cousin and cousin cut across factional lines. It was an attack of the clan against itself, but it was unavoidable. They really were one body of men, and for that very reason the roots of evil had to be cut out.

Koroku, with his peerless courage, was covered with the fresh blood of his kinsmen. He called out to Tenzo to show himself, but with no success. Ten of his men had fallen, but for the other side it was almost a massacre. But Tenzo was not found among the dead. It seemed he had deserted his men and, traveling along mountain paths, had managed his escape.

The swine! thought Koroku, grinding his teeth. He's heading for Kai.

Koroku himself was standing on one of the peaks when out of nowhere came the report of a single shot, which echoed through the mountains. The sound of the gun seemed to mock him. Tears coursed down his cheeks. At that moment he reflected that he and his nephewwho was nothing more than evil incarnatewere, after all, of the same blood. His tears were tears of regret for his own unworthiness. Bitterly discouraged, he tried to think the problem through and realized the day was far off when he could rise from the status of the head of a clan and become the ruler of a province. He had to admit he was incapable of that. If I don't even know how to control one of my own relatives Strength alone isn't enough, if one doesn't have a governing policy, or household discipline. Quite unexpectedly, a bitter smile shone through his tears. That bastard has taught me something after all, he realized. And he gave the order to withdraw.

The force, now numbering little more than thirty men, reformed and descended from the Dozuki ravine to Koromo. They bivouacked just outside the town and, the following day, sent a messenger to the castle town of Okazaki. They received permissioin to pass through, but because it was already late when they started off, it was close to midnight before they reached Okazaki. Along the highways leading toward home were branch and main castles and stockades closely crowded together. There were also strategic checkpoints where a group of armed men could not pass. The journey by road would take many days, so they decided to take a boat down the Yahagi River, and then from Ohama to Handa. From Tokoname, once again they would travel by boat across the open water and then up the Kanie River to Hachisuka.

When they got to the Yahagi River it was midnight, and there was not a boat to be seen. The current was swift and the river wide. Frustrated, Koroku and his men came to a halt under some trees. Various men gave their opinions:

"If there's no boat to go downriver, we could take a ferry across and go along other bank."

"It's too late. Let's wait until morning."

What bothered Koroku most was that in order to camp here, they would have to go to Okazaki Castle to ask permission again.

"Look for a ferryboat," Koroku ordered. "If we can find just one and cross over the other side, by dawn we'll have covered the distance a boat might have taken downriver."

"But, sir, we haven't seen a ferryboat anywhere."

"Idiot! There's bound to be at least one boat around here. How else are people go to cross a river this size during the day? What's more, there should be scouting boats hidden among the reeds or in the high grass along the bank. Or boats to use if fighting disrupts the ferry service. Open your eyes and look!"

The men split into two groups, one going upstream, the other downstream.

"Ah. Here's one!" one man shouted from upstream, stopping in his tracks.

At a spot on the bank where the earth had been washed away during a flood, large purple willows with exposed roots stooped and bowed their branches over the water. The water was calm and dark, like a deep pool. A boat was tied up in the shadows under the trees.

"And it's usable."

The man jumped down and, planning to take the boat downstream, reached down to loosen the mooring rope wound around the roots of a willow. His hand stopped and he gazed fixedly into the boat, a small craft with a shallow draft, used for carrying baggage. It was close to falling apart, dank with slime, and listing dangerously. Nevertheless, it could be used for the crossing. What held the soldier's attention was a man fast asleep under a rotting rush mat, snoring soundly. He wore strange clothes. Both his sleeves and hem were short, and under his dirty white shirting he wore leggings and coverings for the backs of his hands. He had straw sandals on his bare feet. His age was somewhere between childhood and adulthood. He lay on his back under the open sky, the night dew on his eyebrows and eyelashes. He seemed to be at absolute peace with the world.

"Hey, you!" The soldier tried to awaken him, but when the man did not respond at all, he called to him again and tapped him lightly on the chest with the butt of his spear.

"Hey, you, wake up!"

Hiyoshi opened his eyes, grabbed the shaft of the spear with a shout, and stared back at the soldier.

The swirling water around the boat might almost have been a reflection of the state of Hiyoshi's life. On that frosty night in the first month of the previous year when he had taken leave of his mother and sister, he had told them he would be back when he became a great man. He had no desire to go from one job to another, apprenticing himself to merchants and artisans as he had done so far. What he wanted most was to serve a samurai. But his appearance was against him, and he had no evidence of his birth or lineage.

Kiyosu, Nagoya, Sumpu, Odawarahe had walked through all of them. He would sometimes screw up his courage and stand before the gate of a samurai residence, but all of his pleas were met with laughter and ridicule. Once he had even been chased away with a broom. His money was quickly running out, and he realized that the world was just as his aunt in Yabuyama had told him. Still, he refused to let go of his dream, believing his aspirations were reasonable. He was not ashamed to tell anyone of his ambitions, even if he had to sleep out in the open, on the grass, or, like tonight, with water for his bed. How to make his mother, whom he imagined to be the unhappiest person in the world, the happiest, was what drove him on. And how could he do something for his poor sister, who thought she could never marry?

He had his own desires as well. His stomach never felt full, no matter how much he ate. Seeing large mansions, he wanted to live in such places, and the sight of elegant samurai made him reflect on his own appearance; looking at beautiful women, he was overwhelmed by their perfume. Not that his priorities had changed. First came his mother's happiness. His own wants could be taken care of later. For the time being he took pleasure in wandering from place to place, ignoring his hunger, and learning new thingsabout the workings of the world, human passions, the customs of different areas. He tried to understand current events, compared the military strength of the different provinces, and studied the ways of farmers and townsfolk.

From the beginning of the civil wars to the end of the last century, many men had trained in the martial arts. It meant a life of hardship, and for a year and a half Hiyoshi had followed the Way of the Warrior. But he had not gone about with a long sword at his side, aiming to perfect his martial skills. In fact, with his little bit of money he had bought needles from a wholesaler and had become an itinerant peddler. He had walked as far as Kai and Hokuetsu, his sales pitch always on the tip of his tongue. "Need any needles? Here we have sewing needles from Kyoto. Won't you buy them? Needles for cotton, needles for silk. Sewing needles from Kyoto." His earnings were meager, barely enough to live on. He did not, however, become small-minded, as merchants are prone to do, seeing the world only in terms of their wares.

The Hojo clan of Odawara, the Takeda of Kai, the Imagawa of Suruga. Visiting the castle towns of the north, he sensed that the world was stirring, going through a great change. He came to the conclusion that the coming events would be different from the small battles that had, until now, been symptomatic of internal discord. There would be a great war and it would heal all the country's ills. And if it does, he thought as he walked around selling his wares, then even I .The world is getting tired of the decrepit Ashikaga regime. There's chaos all around and the world is waiting for those of us who are young.

Having traveled from the northern provinces to Kyoto and Omi, he had learned a little about life. He had crossed into Owari and arrived at Okazaki, hearing that a relative of his father lived in this castle town. He was not about to go to relatives or acquaintances to ask for food and clothing, but early that summer he had become weak and was suffering from a bad case of food poisoning. He also wanted to hear news of home.

He had walked for two days under the bright, scorching sun, but had been unable to find the man he was looking for. After eating a raw cucumber and drinking water from a well, he had felt a sharp pain in his gut. In the evening he had followed the bank of the Yahagi River until he found a boat. His stomach felt sore and rumbled. Perhaps because he had a slight fever, his mouth was dry and felt as though it was full of thorns. Even now, he thought of his mother, and she came to him in his dreams. Later he fell into a deeper sleep, and nothingneither his mother nor the pain in his stomach nor heaven and earthexisted any longer. Until, that is, the soldier began rapping on his chest the spear.

Hiyoshi's waking shout was disproportionate to the size of his body. He instinctively grabbed hold of the spear. In those days the chest was believed to be the location of the soul, like a shrine within the body.

"Hey, runt, get up!"

The soldier tried to pull back his spear. Hiyoshi held on to it and sat up.

"Get up? I am up."

The man, feeling the strength of Hiyoshi's grip on the spear, scowled and said, Get out of the boat!"

"Get out?"

"Yes, now! We need the boat, so clear out. Get lost!"

Hiyoshi angrily sat down again. "What if I don't want to?"

"What?"

"What if I don't want to?"

"What do you mean?"

"I don't want to get out of the boat."

"You little bastard!"

"Who's the bastard? Waking a man from a deep sleep by tapping him with a spear, then telling him to get out and get lost?"

"Shit! You'd better watch how you talk. Who do you think I am?"

"A man."

"That's obvious."

"You're the one who asked."

"Your mouth works pretty well, doesn't it, for a little runt? In a second it may wrinkle up and shrink. We are men of the Hachisuka clan. Our leader is Hachisuka Koroku. We got here in the middle of the night, and we need a boat to cross the river."

"You can see the boat but not the man. Anyway, I'm using it!"

"I saw you and woke you up. Now get out of there and get lost."

"Annoying, aren't you?"

"Say that again?"

"As many times as you like. I don't want to get out. I'm not giving up this boat."

The man yanked on the shaft of the spear in an effort to pull Hiyoshi onto the bank. Choosing his moment, Hiyoshi let go. The spear sheared through the leaves of the willows, and the soldier tumbled over backwards. Reversing the spear, he thrust it point-first at Hiyoshi. Rotting planks, a bilge bucket, and the reed mat came flying out of the boat.

"Fool!" Hiyoshi mocked.

Other soldiers came running up.

"Stop! What's going on here?" one said.

"Who's this?" asked another.

They crowded together, making a lot of noise, and before long Koroku and the rest of his men were there.

"Did you find a boat?" Koroku asked.

"There's a boat here, but"

Koroku quietly came to the front of the group. Hiyoshi, thinking that this must be the leader, sat up a little straighter, and looked Koroku straight in the face. Koroku's eyes were riveted on Hiyoshi. Neither spoke. Koroku did not notice Hiyoshi's strange appearance. He was too surprised by the way Hiyoshi looked straight into his eyes. He's bolder than he looks, Koroku thought. The longer they stared at each other, the more Hiyoshi's eyes were like those of a nocturnal animal, shining out of the darkness. Finally, Koroku looked away.

"A child," he said calmly.

Hiyoshi did not respond. His eyes, like an archer's arrows, were still aimed straight at Koroku's face.

"He's a child," Koroku repeated.

"You talking about me?" Hiyoshi asked sullenly.

"Of course. Is there anyone else besides you down there?"

Hiyoshi squared his shoulders a little. "I'm not a child. I've had my coming-of-age ceremony."

"Is that so?" Koroku's shoulders shook with laughter. "If you're an adult, I'll treat you like one."

"Now that you've got meone mansurrounded by a large group, what are you going to do with me? I suppose you're ronin"

"You're very funny."

"Not funny at all. I was soundly asleep. Besides, I've got a stomachache. Anyway, I don't care who you are. I don't want to move."

"Hm, your stomach hurts?"

"Yes."

"What's seems to be the matter?"

"Food poisoning, maybe, or heatstroke."

"Where are you from?"

"Nakamura in Owari."

"Nakamura? Well, well. What's your family name?"

"I won't tell you my family name, but my given name is Hiyoshi. But wait a minute, what is this, waking a person from his sleep and asking about his parentage? Where you from and what is your lineage?"

"Like you, I'm from Owari, the village of Hachisuka in Kaito district. My name Hachisuka Koroku. I didn't know there were people like you so close to our village. What sort of work do you do?"

Instead of answering, Hiyoshi said, "Ah, you're from Kaito district? That's not far from my village." He suddenly became more friendly. Here was his chance to ask for news about Nakamura. "Well, seeing we're from the same district, I'll change my mind,. You can have the boat."

He took the bundle of merchandise he'd been using as a pillow, slung it over his shoulder, and climbed up onto the bank. Koroku silently watched his every movement. He noticed first the air of a street vendor and the offhand retorts of an adolescent had traveled here and there all by himself. Hiyoshi resigned himself, sighed, and started to leave with a heavy heart.

"Wait, Hiyoshi. Where are you going from here?"

"My boat's been taken, so I have no place to sleep. If I sleep in the grass, I'll get damp from the dew, and my stomach will hurt more. There's nothing else I can do. I'll walk around until dawn."

"If you like, come with me."

"Where to?"

"Hachisuka. Stay at my place. We'll feed you and look after you until you're cured.

"Thank you." Hiyoshi made a meek little bow. Looking at his own feet, he seemed to be thinking of what to do next. "Does that mean you'll let me live there and work for you?" he asked.

"I like your manner. You've got promise. If you want to serve me, I'll employ you.

"I don't." He said this very clearly, his head held high. "Because my aim is to serve a samurai, I've gone around comparing the samurai and provincial lords of various provinces. I've decided that the most important thing in serving a samurai is choosing the right one. One does not choose one's master lightly."

"Ha, ha! This is getting more and more interesting. Am I, Koroku, not good enough to be your master?"

"I wouldn't know about that until you hired me, but the Hachisuka clan is not well spoken of in my village. And the master of the house I served in before was robbed man said to be a member of the Hachisuka clan. It would pain my mother if I worked for a thief, so I can't go to the house of such a person and serve him."

"Well, I guess you worked for the pottery merchant Sutejiro."

"How did you know?"

"Watanabe Tenzo was a member of the Hachisuka clan. But I myself have disowned the scoundrel. He escaped, but we have defeated his band and are now on our way back home. Has the name of the Hachisuka been slandered even as far as your ears?"

"Hm. You don't seem to be like him," Hiyoshi said this very frankly, looking right at Koroku. Then, as though he had suddenly remembered something, he said, "Well, sir, without any sort of obligation, will you take me as far as Hachisuka? I'd like to go to my relative's house in Futatsudera."

"Futatsudera is right next to Hachisuka. Who do you know there?"

"The cooper Shinzaemon is related to my mother's side of the family."

"Shinzaemon is of samurai stock. Well then, your mother too must be a descendant of samurai."

"I may be a peddler now, but my father was a samurai."

The men had boarded the boat and fixed the pole in place, and were waiting for Koroku to get on board. Koroku put his arm around Hiyoshi's shoulders and they got on the boat.

"Hiyoshi, if you want to go to Futatsudera, go to Futatsudera. If you want to stay in Hachisuka, that'll be all right too."

Being small, Hiyoshi was hidden among the men and their spears, which stood like a forest of trees. The boat cut across the wide river, but the current was swift, and the crossing took time. Hiyoshi got bored. Suddenly he saw a firefly on the back of one of Koroku's soldiers. Cupping his hands, he caught it and watched its light flash on and off.


Tenzo the Bandit | Taiko | The Mountain of the Golden Flower