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War of Words

Shibata Katsuie was fifty-two years old that year. As a military commander, he was the veteran of many battles; as a man, he had experienced many vicissitudes on the road of life. He was of a good lineage and had a distinguished career; he commanded a powerful army, and he was blessed with a robust physique. No one doubted that he had been chosen by the times. He himself assumed that this was unquestionably the case. On the fourth day of the Sixth Month, he was encamped at Uozaki in Etchu. The moment he heard the news of the Honno Temple incident, he told himself, What I do now is of the utmost importance, and I must do it well.

For this reason, his actions were delayed. He was that circumspect. His mind, however, hurried to Kyoto like a squall.

He was the most senior Oda retainer and the military governor of the northern provinces. Now, equipped with a lifetime of wisdom and strength, he was gambling his entire career on one move. Abandoning the battlefield in the north, he hastened toward the capital. Though one might say he hastened, in fact it took him several days to leave Etchu, and he spent several days more in his home castle at Kitanosho in Echizen. He himself did not consider his progress to be slow. Once a man like Katsuie moved on such an important mission, everything had to be done according to the rules, and that necessitated a proper prudence and correct timing.

The speed with which he moved his troops seemed remarkable to Katsuie, but by the time his main force reached the border of Echizen and Omi, it was already the fifteenth of the month. It was not until noon on the following day that the rear guard from Kitanosho caught up with him, and the entire army rested their horses at the mountain pass. Looking down onto the plain, they could see that the summer clouds were already high in the sky.

It had been twelve days since Katsuie had heard of Nobunaga's death. It is true that Hideyoshiwho was fighting the Mori in the western provinceshad heard the report from Kyoto one day ahead of Katsuie. But on the fourth of the month Hideyoshi had made peace with the Mori, on the fifth he had departed, on the seventh he had arrived at Himeji, on the ninth he had turned toward Amagasaki, on the thirteenth he had struck down Mitsuhide in the battle at Yamazaki, and by the time Katsuie had reached the borders of Omi, he had already swept the capital clear of the remaining enemy troops.

Certainly the road leading to the capital from Echizen was longer and more difficult than the one leading from Takamatsu, but the difficulties that faced Hideyoshi and those tht Katsuie confronted were not of the same order. Katsuie had the clear advantage. In managing his troop movements and in disengaging himself from the battlefield, his circumstances were far easier than Hideyoshi's. Why, then, was he so late? It was simply that Katsuie put prudence and abiding by the rules ahead of speed.

The experience that he had gained by participating in so many battles, and the self-confidence that had come about as a result, had created a shell around his thinking and power of discrimination. Those qualities were actually a hindrance to swift action when national affairs were at a turning point, and they contributed to Katsuie's inability to go beyond conventional tactics and strategies.

The mountain village of Yanagase was full of horses and men. West of it was the direction of the capital. Going east, the army would pass Lake Yogo and enter the road to Nagahama Castle. Katsuie had set up his temporary headquarters in the compound of a small mountain shrine.

Katsuie was extremely sensitive to the temperature, and appeared to be suffering from the intense heat and the climb on that day in particular. When he had had his camp stool set up in the shade of the trees, he had a curtain stretched from tree to tree, and he took off his armor behind it. He then turned his back to his foster son, Katsutoshi, and said, Wipe off my back, Katsutoshi."

Twopages held large fans and cooled Katsuie's sides. When the sweat dried, his body began to itch.

Katsutoshi, rub harder. Much harder," he fretted.

The boy was still only fifteen years old. It was rather touching to see him acting with such filial piety in the middle of a march.

Something like a rash covered Katsuie's skin. And Katsuie was not the only one to suffer that summer. Many of the soldiers who were wearing leather and metal armor developed a skin condition that might be called an armor rash, but Katsuie's case was particularly severe.

He told himself that his weakness during the summers was the result of having spent the greater part of the past three years at his post in the northern provinces. But the undeniable truth was that the older he got, the weaker he seemed to become. Katsutoshi rubbed harder, as he had been told, until he drew fatty red blood from Katsuie's skin.

Two messengers arrived. One was Hideyoshi's retainer, the other a retainer of Nobutaka. Each carried a letter from his lord, and together they presented their letters to Katsuie.

Hideyoshi and Nobutaka, both whom were encamped at the Mii Temple in Otsu,

had written their letters personally. Both were dated from the fourteenth of the month. Hideyoshi's letter said:

I have today inspected the head of the rebel general, Akechi Mitsuhide. With this, the requiem for our late lord has ended with appropriate results. We wished to announce this quickly to all the Oda retainers residing in the northern provinces and to send a summary immediately. Needless to say, while His Lordship's passing was the cause of unbearable grief for all of us, the rebel general's head has been exposed and the rebel troops exterminated to the last man, all within eleven days of his death. We do not take pride in this, but believe that it will placate our lord's soul in the underworld, if only a little.

Hideyoshi had concluded in his letter that the outcome of the tragedy should be a matter for great rejoicing, but Katsuie did not rejoice in the least. On the contrary, the very opposite emotion appeared on his face even before he had finished reading. In his answer, however, he naturally wrote that nothing could have made him happier than Hideyoshi's news. He also emphasized the fact that his own army had gotten as far as Yanagase.

Contemplating what he knew now from both the reports of the messengers and the contents of the letters, Katsuie felt unsure about what to do next. When the messengers left, he selected a number of young men with stout legs and sent them from Otsu to Kyoto to investigate the real conditions of the area. He seemed to be resolved to stay camped where he was until he knew the full story.

"Is there any reason to think this might be a false report?" Katsuie asked. He was even more surprised than he had been when he received the tragic report about Nobunaga some days before.

If someone were to have faced Mitsuhide's army in a "requiem battle" ahead of Katsuie himself, it should surely have been Nobutaka or Niwa Nagahide, or even one of the Oda retainers in the capital who might have joined forces with Tokugawa Ieyasu, who was, after all, in Sakai at the time. And, in that case, the victory would not have been won in one day and one night. No one in the Oda clan was of a higher rank than Katsuie, and he knew quite well that if he had been there, everyone would have had to look up to him as commander-in-chief in the battle against the Akechi. That would have been a matter of course.

Katsuie never considered Hideyoshi to be as insignificant as he appeared. On the contrary, he knew Hideyoshi quite well and had never made light of his abilities. Nevertheless, it was a mystery to Katsuie how Hideyoshi had been able to leave the western provinces so quickly.

Katsuie's camp was fortified the following day. Roadblocks were set up, and travelers from the capital were stopped by sentries and questioned thoroughly.

Any information was immediately relayed from the various officers to headquarters in the main camp. From the talk that was gathered from the streets, one could no longer doubt both the complete destruction of the Akechi and the fall of Sakamoto Castle. Moreover, according to some travelers, flames and black smoke had been rising in the

Area of Azuchi that day and the day before, and someone reported that Lord Hideyoshi had led a section of his army toward Nagahama.

The next day Katsuie's mind was no more at peace than before. He was still having trouble deciding what he should do next. He was distraught by shame. He had brought his army from the north this far, and he could not bear to stand aside while Hideyoshi into action.

What was to be done? The natural responsibility of the senior retainer of the Oda would have been to attack the Akechi, but that work had been finished by Hideyoshi. Under the present conditions, then, what would be his greatest and most urgent business? And what strategy would he use in the face of Hideyoshi's present upper hand?

Katsuie was obsessed by Hideyoshi. Moreover, his thoughts were strongly dominated by a dislike that bordered on outright hatred. Summoning his senior advisers, he deliberated on the subject until the late hours of the night. On the following day, couriers and secret messengers hurried out in all directions from the staff headquarters. At the same time Katsuie himself addressed a particularly friendly letter directly to Takigawa Kazumasu.

Athough he had already sent the messenger from Nobutaka back to his master carrying a special response, he now wrote and sent yet another letter to Nobunaga's son. He selected a senior retainer as the envoy and sent two more clever retainers along with him, indicating the importance of their mission.

As for contacting the other close retainers, two scribes took down Katsuie's words and then spent half a day writing out more than twenty letters. The gist of the letters was that first day of the Seventh Month they were to meet in Kiyosu to discuss such important problems as who would be the successor to Nobunaga, and how the former domain of the Akechi was to be divided.

As the initiator of the conference, Katsuie would recover some of his dignity as senior retainer. Certainly it was fully acknowledged that without him such important problems could not be resolved. With this leverage as his "key," Katsuie changed direction and turned toward Kiyosu Castle in Owari.

On the way, from what he heard and from the reports of his scouts, he discovered that many of the surviving Oda retainers had been heading toward Kiyosu before his letters had even been delivered. Samboshi, the son of Nobunaga's heir, Nobutada, was already there, and naturally the common view was that the center of the Oda clan would be there too. Katsuie, however, suspected that Hideyoshi had taken a presumptuous lead and had orchestrated this as well.

* * *

Every day Kiyosu Castle presented the extraordinary spectacle of magnificent processions of mounted men going up the hill to the castle gate.

The land from which Nobunaga had begun his life's work was now regarded as the conference ground where the settlement of the clan's affairs would be discussed.

On the surface, the surviving Oda retainers who had gathered claimed that they had come to pay their respects to Samboshi. No one mentioned that he had received Shibata Katsuie's letters or that he had come at Hideyoshi's invitation.

But everyone knew that a conference would soon begin in the castle. The subject of the conference was also common knowledge. Only the public notice of the day and time needed to be posted. Once the retainers had payed their respects to Samboshi, not one of them would be returning to his home province. Each had a good number of soldiers waiting at their lodgings in the castle town.

The population of the castle town had swollen tremendously, and that, combined with the midsummer heat and the town's small size, created an atmosphere of extraordinary confusion and noise. With horses running furiously through the streets, fights among servants, and frequent outbreaks of fire, there was no time for boredom.

Toward the end of the month Nobunaga's two surviving sons, Nobutaka and Nobuo, and his former generals, including Katsuie and Hideyoshi, arrived.

Only Takigawa Kazumasu had not yet made an appearance. Because of his absence, he was the object of frank and unfavorable criticism in the streets.

"Takigawa was happy enough to accept posts when Lord Nobunaga was alive and was even appointed to the important position of governor-general of eastern Japan, so why is he so late in arriving in this present crisis? It's a shameful display on his part."

There were others even more unabashed in their criticism.

"He's a clever politician, and he is not a man of unshakable loyalty. That's probably why he hasn't stirred yet."

That sort of talk made the rounds of the taverns.

Soon thereafter, criticism concerning Katsuie's lateness in attacking Mitsuhide was also heard here and there. Of course, the various clans residing in Kiyosu heard it as well, and Hideyoshi's retainers quickly brought it to his attention.

"Really? So that's started too? It's criticism of Katsuie, so no one is going to think that the rumors are being spread by Katsuie himself, but to me it looks like an attempt on his part to cause dissension among usa battle of scheming before the big conference. Well, let them have their little tricks. Takigawa has been won over by Katsuie anyway, so let it be."

Before the conference, each man conjectured about his own future and groped for what was in the others' minds. In the meantime there were the usual unspoken understandings and antagonisms, spreading false rumors, winning over others, splitting the opposition, and every other stratagem.

The communication between Shibata Katsuie and Nobutaka was particularly conspicuous; the one man was of the highest rank among the clan's elders, while the other was the third son of Nobunaga. The intimacy between these two went beyond official business and could not be kept secret.

The general opinion was that Katsuie planned to ignore Nobunaga's second son, Nobuo, and establish Nobutaka as the next heir. They all took it for granted, however, that Nobuo would oppose Nobutaka.

There was little reason to doubt that Nobunaga's successor would naturally be either Nobutaka or Nobuo, the younger brothers of Nobutada, who had died at Nijo Castle at the time of his father's death. Everyone, however, was confused over which one of these two should be supported.

Nobuo and Nobutaka: both were born in the First Month of the first year of Eiroku and were now twenty-four years old. Though it seems strange that they could be born in the same year and still be called older and younger brothers, the explanation is that they had different mothers. Although Nobuo was considered the elder brother and Nobutaka the younger, Nobutaka had actually been born twenty days earlier than Nobuo. It would have been natural, then, for Nobutaka to be called the elder brother, except for the fact that his mother was a woman from a small, obscure clan, and so he was designated Nobunaga's third son while Nobuo was established as the second.

Therefore, while these men were called brothers, the intimacy between true flesh-and-blood relatives was absent. Nobuo's disposition was lethargic and negative, and the only positive feeling he displayed was his constant opposition to Nobutaka, whom he looked down upon as his subordinate "younger brother."

When these two were fairly compared, everyone recognized that Nobutaka had far more the disposition to be Nobunaga's successor. On the battlefield he was much more like a general than was Nobuo; he displayed an ambitious spirit in his everyday words and actions, and, more than anything else, he was not retiring like his brother.

So it was natural that he began to show an aggressive attitude quite suddenly after going to Yamazaki and displaying a dominating presence in Hideyoshi's camp. His willingness to bear the responsibilities of the Oda heir were manifested clearly in his recent words and behavior, and as striking proof of the ambition he was entertaining, after the battle of Yamazaki he began to detest Hideyoshi.

For Nobuo, who had panicked when the Akechi had attacked and whose own army had set fire to Azuchi Castle, Nobutaka had some harsh words.

"If punishments are going to be clearly imposed, they will have to ask him about his responsibility. Nobuo is a fool." Although those sentiments were not spoken publicly, the atmosphere in Kiyosu was tense, and it was certain that someone must have repeated the words to Nobuo. It was a situation in which covert schemes brought out the most repugnant aspects of human nature.

The conference was supposed to begin on the twenty-seventh of the month, but because Takigawa Kazumasu was late in arriving, it was postponed one day after another until finally, on the first day of the Seventh Month, an announcement was circulated to all of the important retainers staying in Kiyosu: "Tomorrow, at the second half of the Hour of the Dragon, everyone should proceed to the castle, there to determine who will be the ruler of the nation. The chairman of this great conference will be Shibata Katsuie."

Nobutaka lent prestige to Katsuie, while Katsuie provided influence for Nobutaka, and they boasted that they would have their own way at this conference. Moreover, when the conference finally opened, it appeared that a great number of men were already leaning in their direction.

All of the many partitions in Kiyosu Castle had been opened that day, no doubt because the sun continued to shine and the heat and stuffiness would otherwise have been unbearable. That action, however, also implied that a certain amount of care was being taken not to allow private conversations. Almost all the guards inside the castle were retainers of Shibata Katsuie.

By the Hour of the Snake, all of the lords were seated in the great hall.

Their seating arrangements were as follows:

Katsuie and Takigawa sat on the right, facing Hideyoshi and Niwa on the left. Lesser retainers, such as Shonyu, Hosokawa, Tsutsui, Gamo, and Hachiya, were seated behind them. At the very front in the seats of highest rank were Nobutaka and Nobuo. But from the side, Hasegawa Tamba could be seen holding a small boy.

That was, of course, Samboshi.

Waiting modestly beside them was Maeda Geni, the retainer who had received Nobutada's last order when the latter was about to die in the battle at Nijo Castle. Apparently he did not feel it an honor to be the only survivor present.

Samboshi was only two years old, and as his guardian held him on his lap directly in front of the assembled lords, he could barely keep still. He stretched out his hand and pushed Tamba's chin and then stood up in his lap.

To help the perplexed Tamba, Geni tried to humor the child by whispering something from behind; at that, Samboshi reached over Tamba's shoulder and pulled Geni's ear. Bewildered, Geni did not protest, and once again the wet nurse who had been kneeling behind them placed a folded paper crane into Samboshi's hand. Geni's ear was saved.

The eyes of all the assembled generals fixed on the innocent child. Some showed a faint smile, while others shed silent tears. Only Katsuie looked out over the great hall with a sullen face. He appeared as though he would have liked to mutter something about a "nuisance."

As the chairman of the conference and as the dignified and solemn spokesman, he should have begun the proceedings by speaking first. Nevertheless, now everyone was distracted and he had lost the opportunity to speak. He seemed to be almost unbearably distraught at his own vain efforts.

At length Katsuie opened his mouth and said, "Lord Hideyoshi."

Hideyoshi looked straight at him.

Katsuie forced a smile. "What shall we do?" he asked, exactly as though he were opening negotiations. "Lord Samboshi is an innocent child. Being confined to his guardian's knee must be trying for him."

"That could be so," Hideyoshi said in a noncommittal tone.

Katsuie must have thought that Hideyoshi was becoming conciliatory, and he quickly mustered a confrontational attitude. Antipathy mixed with dignity stiffened his entire frame, and he now displayed an expression that showed his extreme displeasure.

"Well, Lord Hideyoshi. Are you not the person who requested Lord Samboshi's presence? I really have no idea, but"

"You're not mistaken. I'm the one who advocated it of necessity."

"Of necessity?"

Katsuie smoothed the wrinkles from his kimono. It was still before noon so the heat was not too oppressive, but because of the thickness of his garments and his skin condition, he seemed to be very uncomfortable. Such a thing might seem trivial, but it influenced the tone of his voice and gave him a grim expression.

Katsuie's view of Hideyoshi underwent a change after Yanagase. Until that time, he had thought of Hideyoshi as his junior, and was of the opinion that their relationship had not been a particularly good one. But the battle of Yamazaki had been a turning point.

Hideyoshi's name was now being mentioned every day with rising authority in connection with the work left undone after the death of Nobunaga. It was unbearable for Katsuie to observe this phenomenon passively. And his feelings were compounded by his reaction to Hideyoshi's having fought the requiem battle for Nobunaga.

That Hideyoshi was viewed on equal terms with him caused Katsuie the greatest unhappiness. He could not bear to have his many years as an elder of the Oda clan overlooked because of this man's few meritorious deeds. Why should Shibata Katsuie be put into a lower position than someone who was now wearing a kimono and headdress so proudly, but who in the old days in Kiyosu was nothing more than a menial risen up from moat cleaner and dung sweeper? Today, Katsuie's breast was like a tightly strung bow, pulled taut by innumerable emotions and strategies.

I don't know how you're thinking about today's conference, Lord Hideyoshi, but generally the lords seated here are all bearing firmly in mind that it is the first time the Oda clan has met like this to discuss such important matters. Why must we have a two-year old child here?" Katsuie asked bluntly.

Both his speech and his conduct seemed to be asking for a sympathetic response not only from Hideyoshi but from all the great lords there. When he realized that he was not going to get a clear answer from Hideyoshi, he continued in the same tone of voice.

We have no time to dally. Why don't we ask the young lord to retire before we begin this conference? Do you agree, Lord Hideyoshi?"

Hideyoshi looked undistinguished, even in a formal kimono. There was no mistaking his humble origins when he appeared among the others.

As for his rank, he had been given a number of important titles when Nobunaga was alive. He had fully demonstrated his real strength both during the western campaign and in his victory at Yamazaki.

But meeting Hideyoshi face to face, you might doubt whether you would side with him in those dangerous times and risk your life for him.

There were men who, at a glance, seemed to be quite impressive. Takigawa Kazumasu, for example, had a stately bearing that no one would deny belonged to a first-rate general. Niwa Nagahide possessed an elegant simplicity and, with his receding hair, he appeared to be a stalwart warrior. Gamo Ujisato was the youngest, but with the respectability of hlis family line and the nobility of his character, he seemed to possess a strong moral sense. In composure and dignity, Ikeda Shonyu was even less imposing than Hideyoshi, but there was a certain light that shone from his eyes. And there was Hosokawa Fujitaka, who appeared so upright and gentle, but whose maturity made him inscrutable.

So although Hideyoshi's appearance was ordinary, he looked downright shabby when he sat with those men. The men who gathered for the conference that day in Kiyosu were of the foremost rank among their contemporaries. Maeda Inuchiyo and Sassa Narimasa had not attended because they were still fighting in the northern campaign. And, although he was a special case, if Tokugawa Ieyasu's name were added, it might be said that the men in Kiyosu that day were the leaders of the country. And Hideyoshi was among them, regardless of his appearance.

Hideyoshi himself realized the greatness of his colleagues' rank, and he was discreet and humble. His arrogance after the victory at the battle of Yamazaki was nowhere to be seen. From the beginning he was extremely serious. Even in response to Katsuie's words, he was respectfully reserved. But now it seemed that he could no longer avoid a response to Katsuie's persistent request.

"No, what you're saying is quite reasonable. There is a reason for Lord Samboshi to attend this conference, but because he's still of such an innocent age, and the conference promises to be a long one, he's certain to feel cramped. If it is your wish, lord, let's ask him to withdraw right away." Answering Katsuie with such moderate language, Hideyoshi turned a little and asked the guardian to withdraw.

The man nodded and, taking Samboshi up from his lap, put him into the hands of the wet nurse behind him. Samboshi appeared to be very pleased with the great crowd of fully attired men and strongly rejected the wet nurse's hand. When she held on to him anyway and stood up to go, he suddenly swung his arms and legs and broke out crying. He then threw the folded paper crane into the midst of the seated lords.

Tears suddenly came to every man's eyes.

The clock struck noon. The tension in the great hall was tangible.

Katsuie made the opening address. "The tragic death of Lord Nobunaga has caused us great sadness, but we must now choose a worthy successor to continue his work. We must serve him in death as we did in life. This is the Way of the Samurai."

Katsuie questioned the men about the succession. He sought proposals from those present again and again, but no one would be the first to come forward and express his private opinion. Even if anyone had been rash enough to express his own thoughts on that occasion, if by any chance the man he supported as the Oda successor was not chosen in the final selection, his life would have been in certain danger.

No one was going to open his mouth indiscreedy, and they all sat in complete silence. Katsuie patiently let the group's silent modesty pass for exactly that. Perhaps he had foreseen this course of events. Deliberately he took on a dignified tone and spoke. "If none of you has any particular opinion, for the present I will offer my own humble opinion as senior retainer."

At that moment, a sudden change of complexion appeared on the face of Nobutaka, who was seated in the place of honor. Katsuie looked at Hideyoshi, who in turn was looking back and forth from Takigawa to Nobutaka.

Those subtle movements set up unseen waves from mind to mind for just an instant. Kiyosu Castle was filled with a silent tension, almost as though it were devoid of human beings.

Finally Katsuie spoke. "It is my view that Lord Nobutaka is of the appropriate age, and has the natural ability and lineage to be the successor to our lord. Lord Nobutaka is my choice."

It was a very well-put statement that came close to being a proclamation. Katsuie thought that he had already taken control.

But then someone spoke up. "No, that's not right." It was Hideyoshi. "In terms of lineage," he went on, "the correct succession is from Nobunaga's eldest son, Lord Nobu-tada, to his son, Lord Samboshi. The province has its laws and the clan has its household regulations."

Katsuie's face flushed darkly. "Ah, wait a moment, Lord Hideyoshi."

No," Hideyoshi continued, "you're going to say that Lord Samboshi is still an infant. But if the entire clanbeginning with you yourself, my lord, and all the other retainers and generalsis here to protect him, there should be no discontent. Our devotion should have nothing to do with age. As for me, I believe that if the succession is to be correctly followed, Lord Samboshi must be the heir."

Taken aback, Katsuie took a handkerchief from his kimono and wiped the sweat from his neck. What Hideyoshi was asserting was indeed the law of the Oda clan. It could not be taken as opposition simply for opposition's sake.

The other man who had great consternation written on his face was Nobuo. As Nobutaka's main rival, he had formally been proclaimed elder brother, and his mother had been of excellent lineage. There was no doubt that he, too, had secret expectations of being named successor to his father.

As his anticipation had been implicitly denied, his mean-spiritedness quickly became manifest, and he looked as though he could not stand to be there any longer.

Nobutaka, on the other hand, glared at Hideyoshi.

Katsuie could say nothing either positive or negative, but only mumbled to himself. No one else expressed an opinion of either approval or disapproval.

Katsuie had exposed his true colors, and Hideyoshi had spoken just as frankly. The opinions of the two men were completely opposed and, having been so clearly stated to be so, siding with either one was going to be a serious matter. Utter silence encased everyone like a thick crust.

As for the succession well, yes. But this is different from what it might be in times of peace. Lord Nobunaga's work is still only half done, with many difficulties remaining. Even more than when he was in this world."

Katsuie repeatedly called for his colleagues to speak, and every time he opened his mouthalmost groaningTakigawa would nod. But it appeared that it was still difficult to see through the minds of the others.

Hideyoshi spoke up once again. "If Lord Nobutada's wife were only just pregnant now, and we were waiting for the umbilical cord to be cut to verify whether the child was a boy or girl, a conference like this would be necessary. But we have a suitable heir, so where is the need for dissent or discussion? I think we should immediately decide upon Lord Samboshi."

He persisted in this position, not even glancing at the faces of the other men. It was primarily an objection aimed at Katsuie.

Although the positions of the other generals were not voiced outright, they seemed to be moved by Hideyoshi's opinions and to agree with him in their hearts. Just before the conference, the generals had seen the helpless figure of Nobutada's orphaned son, and every one of them had children in his own household. They were samurai, a calling in which a man might be alive today but could never know about tomorrow. As each one of them looked at the pitiful figure of Samboshi, he could not help but be deeply touched.

That sentiment was backed by a noble and sound argument. Even though the generals held their own silence, it was natural that they were moved by Hideyoshi's assertion.

In contrast, while Katsuie's argument sounded reasonable to a certain degree, it was weak at its foundation. It was really based on expediency, and it stripped Nobuo of his

status. It was far more likely that Nobuo would stand aside to support Samboshi than that he would do so to back the succession of Nobutaka.

Katsuie struggled to find an argument to use against Hideyoshi. He had not thought that Hideyoshi would easily agree with his own proposal at today's conference, but he had not estimated how vigorously the man would insist on backing Samboshi. Nor had he foreseen that so many of the other generals would lean toward supporting the child.

"Hm, well now, let me see. Your words may seem logical by the force of argument, but there is a great difference between taking charge of a two-year-old lord and looking up to a man who has both proper age and military ability. Remember that we remaining retainers must shoulder the responsibility both for the morale of the administration and for the long-range policies for the future. There are also a number of difficulties with the Mori and the Uesugi. What's going to happen if we have an infant lord? Our former lord's work could be stopped halfway, and left as it is, the Oda clan's domain could actually diminish. No, if we choose a defensive attitude, our enemies on all four sides will think that their opportunity has come and will invade. Then the country will sink into chaos once again. No, I think your idea is dangerous. What do you think, all of you?"

Looking around at the men seated in the hall, his eyes searched out supporters. Not only was there no clear response from anywhere, but suddenly another eye caught his own.

"Katsuie."

A voice called his name, exhibiting an opposing force that might as well be cutting him from the side.

"Well, Nagahide, what is it?" Katsuie shot back a reply filled with disgust, almost as a reflex action.

"I've listened to your prudent thoughtfulness for some time now, but I can't help being persuaded by Hideyoshi's argument. I'm fully in agreement with what Hideyoshi says."

Niwa had the rank of elder. With Niwa breaking the silence and clearly placing his banner in Hideyoshi's camp, Katsuie and everyone attending the conference suddenly became agitated.

"Why do you say that, Niwa?"

Niwa had known Katsuie for years, and knew him well. Thus, he spoke soothingly. "Don't be angry, Katsuie." Looking at Katsuie with a kindly expression, he went on, "Regardless of what might be said, wasn't it Hideyoshi who most pleased our lord? And when Lord Nobunaga met his untimely death, it was Hideyoshi who returned from the west to attack the immoral Mitsuhide."

Katsuie's face was smeared with his own wretchedness. But he would not be broken, and his obstinacy was manifest right in his physical body.

Niwa Nagahide went on, "At that time you were involved in the campaign in the north. Even if the troops under your command had not been ready but you had whipped your horses to the capital as soon as you heard of Lord Nobunaga's death, you might have crushed the Akechi on the spotyour status is so much higher than Hideyoshi's, after all. Because of your negligence, however, you were simply late, and that was certainly regrettable."

That opinion was in the breast of every man there, and Niwa's words expressed their innermost feelings. That negligence was Katsuie's weakest point. The single factor of having arrived late and not participated in the battle for their late lord could not be excused in any way. After Niwa had brought it out into the open, he unreservedly gave his own approval to Hideyoshi's proposal, saying that it was both just and proper.

When Niwa finished speaking, the atmosphere in the great hall had changed. It was now filled with gloom.

As if to help Katsuie in his crisis, Takigawa quickly took the opportunity to whisper to the man next to him, and soon sighs and low voices filled the room.

A resolution was going to be difficult. It could be a turning point for the Oda clan. On the surface, it was never anything more than the noise of individual voices, but beneath the uproar there was great anxiety concerning the outcome of the confrontation between Katsuie and Hideyoshi.

In the midst of the oppressive atmosphere, a tea master came in and quietly informed Katsuie that it was now past noon. Nodding to the man, Katsuie ordered him to bring him something to wipe the sweat from his body. When one of the attendants gave him a damp white cloth, he grabbed it in his large hand and wiped the sweat from his neck.

Just at that time, Hideyoshi put his left hand to his side. Grimacing with knitted brows, he turned to Katsuie and said, "You'll have to excuse me for a moment, Lord Katsuie. I seem to have a sudden case of indigestion." Suddenly he stood up and retired several rooms away from the conference hall.

"It hurts," he complained loudly, disconcerting the men around him.

Looking very ill, he lay down. Apparently in full control of himself, however, he iced the cushion to face the cool breeze wafting in from the garden, turned his back to the others, and loosened his sweat-soaked collar by himself.

But the doctor and the attendants were alarmed. His retainers also came in anxiously, one after another, to look in on him.

But Hideyoshi never even looked around. With his back still turned to them, he waved them away as he might a fly.

"This happens all the time. Just leave me in peace, and I'll be better soon."

The attendants quickly prepared a sweet-smelling decoction for him, which Hideyoshi drank in one gulp. Then he lay down again and seemed to fall asleep, so his attendants and samurai withdrew to the next room. The conference hall was some distance away, so Hideyoshi did not know what happened after he had excused himself. He had left just as the attendants were repeatedly announcing the noon hour, however, so his departure had most likely given the generals the portunity to adjourn for lunch.

About two hours passed. During that time, the afternoon sun of the Seventh Month shone relentlessly. The castle was as peaceful as though nothing were happening at all. Niwa came into the room and asked, "How are you feeling, Hideyoshi? Has your stomach settled down?"

Hideyoshi turned and propped himself up on one elbow. Seeing Niwa's face, he seemed to quickly regain consciousness and sat up straight. "My goodness, excuse me!"

"Katsuie asked me to come and fetch you."

"What about the conference?"

"It cannot resume without you. Katsuie said we would continue after you came back."

"I have said all I had to say."

"After an hour's rest in their rooms, the retainers' mood seems to have changed. Even Katsuie has had second thoughts."

"Let's go."

Hideyoshi stood up. Niwa smiled, but an unsmiling Hideyoshi was already leaving the room.

Katsuie greeted him with a direct look in the eye, while the men gathered there seemed somehow relieved. The atmosphere of the conference hall had changed. Katsuie stated positively that he had given in and accepted Hideyoshi's proposal. A measure had been agreed upon establishing Samboshi as Nobunaga's heir.

With Katsuie's conciliation, the entire conference hall was swept clean of the ominous clouds in an instant. A blending spirit of peace was beginning to arise.

"Everyone agreed that Lord Samboshi should be regarded as the head of the Oda clan, and I have no objection." Katsuie repeated. Seeing that his own view had been rejected by everyone, Katsuie had quickly withdrawn his previous remarks but had barely survived his disappointment.

There was, however, one hope he still held.

It had to do with the next item to be discussed by the conference: the fate of the former Akechi domainor, in other words, the problem of how the domain would be divided up between the surviving Oda retainers.

Because it was a substantial problem directly affecting the interests of all the generals, it was a difficultyeven more so than the problem of successionthat no one expected to be able to avoid.

"This matter should be decided upon by the senior retainers." Hideyoshi, who had obtained the first victory, expressed his modest opinion, and it greatly smoothed the progress of the conference.

"Well, what are the thoughts of our most senior retainer?"

Niwa, Takigawa, and the others now saved the crushed Katsuie from disgrace, giving him the central position in the conference.

The presence of Hideyoshi, however, was difficult to deny, and the draft proposal was eventually sent to him as well. Apparently it could not be finished without first asking his opinion.

"Bring me a brush," he ordered. Dipping the brush in the ink, he artlessly drew a line through three or four clauses and wrote in his own opinions. With this revision, he sent it back.

Once again it was sent to Katsuie, and Katsuie looked displeased. He thought silently for some time; the clause containing his own hopes was still wet with the ink that had been drawn across it. Hideyoshi, however, had also inked a line through the section allotting himself Sakamoto Castle, which he had replaced by the province of Tamba.

Exhibiting a lack of selfishness, he was proposing that Katsuie exhibit the same quality. Finally, a good portion of the Akechi domain was allotted to Nobuo and Nobutaka,

And the rest was assigned as allotments to men according to their merits at the battle of Yamazaki.

There will be more business tomorrow," Katsuie began. "And with this long conference taking place in such heat, I'm sure you're all tired. I certainly am. Shall we adjourn, my lords?"

Katsuie finally refused to make a quick reply to Hideyoshi's new proposals. There was no objection to that. The afternoon sun was shining brightly, and the heat was becoming more and more severe. The first day was finished.

On the following day Katsuie presented the senior retainers with a compromise. The night before he had gathered his own retainers, and they had put their heads together in a discussion at their lodgings. Hideyoshi, however, turned down the new proposal as well.

On that day again the clause containing the allotments came between the two men and opposition between them seemed to be intensifying. The general trend, however, was already supporting Hideyoshi. No matter how Katsuie persevered, Hideyoshi's conditions were followed in the end.

At noon there was a break, and at the Hour of the Ram the decisions were presented to all the generals.

The territory being distributed was the Akechi's confiscated land as well as Nobunagas personal domain.

The first on the list for the division of the Oda provinces was Lord Nobuo, who received the entire province of Owari, followed by Lord Nobutaka, who was given Mino. One was the cradle of the Oda clan; the other, Nobunaga's second home.

There were two clauses, however, that added a good bit more to the original proposal: Ikeda Shonyu was given Osaka, Amagasaki, and Hyogo, which were worth one hundred tweny thousand bushels; Niwa Nagahide received Wakasa and two districts of Omi. Hideyoshi received the province of Tamba.

Katsuie's only grant was Hideyoshi's own castle of Nagahama. It was the strategic bottleneck on the road leading from Katsuie's home province of Echizen to Kyoto. Katsuie requested the province forcibly and had hoped for three or four other districts, but Hideyoshi had scratched out all other grants. Hideyoshi's only condition was that Nagahama would be given to Katsutoyo, Katsuie's adopted son.

The night before, the retainers of the Shibata clan had surrounded Katsuie and advocated a protest against such a humiliating share. They even encouraged him to reject the conditions and leave, and Katsuie was of the same mind right up to the time of his arrival on the second day of the conference. When he faced the men seated there, however, it was evident that the general trend was not to accept what he alone was demanding.

It wouldn't be right to humble myself, but I shouldn't be viewed as selfish, either. A majority are going to approve of these articles anyway, so if I don't show sympathy for them, it might get worse later on."

In view of the opinions of those seated at the conference, he could naturally do nothing more than restrain himself.

If I can only take the strategic area of Nagahama from Hideyoshi, he thought. In the end, he hoped to realize his secret intentions on another day, and accepted the conditions as they were.

In contrast to Katsuie's vacillation, Hideyoshi's attitude seemed to be one of unconcern. From the time of the campaign in the western provinces to the victory at Yamazaki, Hideyoshi had taken the leadership in both military and administrative policies, and people naturally thought he would expect to receive more than the others. Despite those notions, however, what he did receive was nothing more than the province of Tamba. He gave up his domain of Nagahama and granted Sakamotowhich everyone would have thought it proper for him to taketo Niwa.

And Sakamoto was the key to Kyoto. Did he purposely not take Sakamoto, hoping to indicate that he had no desire to take the reins of the government? Or did he simply feel that he should leave such small matters up to the opinions of the group, because it would fall into the right person's hands? Nobody understood yet what was in his heart.


The Two Gates | Taiko | Midnight Warning