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A True Friend

Katsuie had barely escaped with his life, but his army had been annihilated. Until that morning, the Shibata standard with its golden emblem had flown in the vicinity of Yanagase, but now only Hideyoshi's standard could be seen. It shone brilliantly in the bright sunshine, impressing all who saw it, symbolizing a reality that transcended ordinary wisdom and strength.

The flags and banners of Hideyoshi's armywhich stretched out along the roads, and covered the fields presented a grand spectacle of victory. They were packed so closely together that they resembled a thick golden haze.

The army started eating its provisions. Hostilities had begun early that morning and had lasted for about eight hours. When the meal was finished, the entire army was given orders to advance north immediately.

As the men approached Tochinoki Pass, they could see the Tsuruga Sea to the west, while the mountains of Echizen opened up to the north seemingly right under their horses' hooves.

The sun was already beginning to sink, and heaven and earth burned with an evening glow encompassing all the colors of a rainbow.

Hideyoshi's face was burnt a deep red. He did not, however, appear to be a man who had not slept for days. He seemed to have forgotten that men need to sleep. Constantly advancing, he had not yet ordered a halt. At that time of year the nights were at their shortest. While it was still light, the main army bivouacked at Imajo in Echizen. The vanguard went on, however, having been ordered to advance as far as Wakimotomore than two leagues awaywhile the rear guard stopped at Itadori, about the same distance behind the central army. Thus, the camp that night stretched for four leagues from van to rear.

That night Hideyoshi fell into contented slumberone that even the song of the mountain cuckoo could not disturb.

Tomorrow we'll get to Fuchu Castle, Hideyoshi thought just before going to sleep. But how will Inuchiyo receive us?

What was Inuchiyo doing at that time? He had passed through the area at noon that same day and, while the sun was still high in the sky, had withdrawn his army into Fuchu, his sons castle.

Thank the gods you're safe," his wife said as she came out to greet him.

Take care of the wounded. You can look to me later on."

Inuchiyo did not even take off his sandals or untie his armor; he just stood in front of the castle. His pages were also there, lined up behind him, solemnly waiting.

Finally, corps after corps of warriors marched smartly through the gate, carrying the corpses of their fallen comrades, on top of which they had laid their banners. Next, those wounded in battle were either carried in or walked in, leaning on their comrades' shoulders.

The thirty-odd casualties the Maeda had suffered in the retreat did not compare with the losses of the Shibata and Sakuma. The bell was rung at the temple, and as the sun dipped in the sky, the smoke from cooking fires began to rise from all parts of the castle. The order was given for the soldiers to eat their rations. The troops, however, did not disperse, but stayed in their units, as if they were still on the battlefield.

A guard at the main gate yelled, "The lord of Kitanosho has arrived at the castle

What! Lord Katsuie here!" Inuchiyo muttered in astonishment. This was an unexpected development, and Inuchiyo seemed unable to bear to meet the mannow a fugitive. For a moment he was sunk in thought, but then he said, "Let's go out to greet him."

Inuchiyo followed his son out of the keep. Descending the last set of stairs, he walked to the drkened connecting corridor. One of his attendants, Murai Nagayori, followed after him.

My lord," Murai whispered.

Inuchiyo looked at Murai questioningly.

The retainer whispered in his lord's ear, "Lord Katsuie's arrival here is an incomparable and happy opportunity. If you kill him and send his head to Lord Hideyoshi, your and Lord Hideyoshi's relationship will be patched up without difficulty."

Without warning Inuchiyo struck the man in the chest. "Shut up!" he thundered.

Murai staggered back to fhe wooden wall behind him and just barely avoided falling over. Turning pale, he had the presence of mind neither to stand up nor to sit completely down.

Glaring at him, Inuchiyo spoke with undisguised anger. "It is an outrageous act to whisper into a lord's ear an immoral, cowardly plan that a man should be ashamed to utter. You consider yourself a samurai, but you know nothing of the Way of the Samurai! What kind of man would sell the head of a general who had come knocking at his gate, just to profit his own clan? Much less when he's spent as many years campaigning with that general as I have!"

Leaving the trembling Murai behind, Inuchiyo went out toward the main entrance togreet Katsuie. Katsuie had come up to the castle gate still on horseback. He held the shaft of a broken spear in one hand and did not appear to be wounded, but his entire facehis entire beingwas suffused with desolation.

The reins of his horse were held by Toshinaga, who had run out to greet him. The eight men who accompanied him had stayed outside the main gate. So Katsuie was alone.

"I'm greatly obliged to you." With those courteous words to Toshinaga, Katsuie dismounted. He looked Inuchiyo in the face and spoke in a loud voice full of self-scorn. "We lost! We lost!"

He was in surprisingly good spirits. It may have been that he was just pretending, but he seemed far more relaxed than Inuchiyo had imagined he would be. Inuchiyo was kinder than usual in greeting the defeated general. Toshinaga was no less concerned than his father and helped the fugitive take off his blood-soaked sandals.

"I feel as though I've come home to my own house."

Kindness makes a deep impression on a man in the abyss of destruction and causes him to abandon any suspicions and bitterness. It is the only thing that will make him think that there is still light in the world.

Apparently now quite happy, Katsuie continued to congratulate father and son on their escape. "This defeat was entirely due to my own oversights. I brought troubles onto you, too, and I hope you'll forgive me," he apologized. "I'll retreat as far as Kitanosho and put my affairs in order and without any regrets. I wonder if you wouldn't give me a bowl of rice and tea."

Demon Shibata seemed to have become the Buddha Shibata. Even Inuchiyo was unable to hold back his tears.

"Bring some tea and rice quickly. And sake" Inuchiyo ordered. He could think of few words of comfort for the man. Nevertheless, he felt that he had to say something. "It's often said that victory and defeat are the stuff of a warrior's life. If you consider today's disaster in terms of human destiny, you know that to be proud of victory is the first step toward the day of destruction, and to be completely defeated is the first step toward the day of victory. The eternal cycle of man's rise and fall is not just a matter of temporary joy and sorrow."

"Therefore, what I regret is neither my own personal destruction nor the perpetual cycle of change," Katsuie said. "I only regret the loss of my reputation. But rest assured, Inuchiyo. It is all predestined."

For him to say such a thing was a complete departure from the Katsuie of olden days. But he seemed to be neither tormented nor confused.

When the sake arrived, Katsuie happily took a cup and, supposing that it would be his farewell, poured one for father and son as well. He heartily ate the simple meal Inuchiyo had ordered.

"I've never tasted anything like the rice I've eaten today. I'll never forget your kindness." That said, he took his leave.

Inuchiyo, who accompanied him outside, immediately noticed that his mount was exhausted. Ordering a page to bring out his own beloved dapple-gray horse, he offered it to Katsuie. "Put your mind at ease," Inuchiyo said. "We will hold this place until you get to Kitanosho."

Katsuie started to leave but then turned the horse around and came up to Inuchiyo as though he had suddenly remembered something. "Inuchiyo, you and Hideyoshi have been close friends since your youth. The battle having turned out this way, I release you from your duty to me as a retainer."

Those were to be his last words to Inuchiyo. As he mounted his horse, his expression was devoid of any falsehood. Confronted with such feeling, Inuchiyo bowed with heartfelt emotion. The figure of Katsuie leaving the castle gate was black against the red of the evening sun. The tiny remaining army of eight mounted men and ten or so foot soldiers now took flight to Kitanosho.

Two or three mounted men galloped into Fuchu Castle. Their news was soon common knowledge throughout the stronghold. "The enemy is camped at Wakimoto. Lord Hideyoshi has set up camp at Imajo, so there is little prospect of an attack tonight."

Hideyoshi slept happily through the nightreally more like half the nightat Imajo, and on the following day he left camp early and rode to Wakimoto.

Kyutaro came out to greet him. He erected the commander's standard, indicating the presence of the commander-in-chief.

"What went on in Fuchu Castle last night?" Hideyoshi asked.

"There appeared to be a great deal of activity."

"Are they fortifying the place? Maybe the Maeda want to fight." Answering his own question, he looked toward Fuchu. Suddenly he turned to Kyutaro and ordered him to prepare his troops.

"Are you going into battle in person?" Kyutaro asked.

"Of course." Hideyoshi nodded as though he were looking out over a large level road. Kyutaro quickly communicated Hideyoshi's words to the various generals and blew the conch shell to assemble the vanguard. Very soon the men had fallen into ranks, ready to march.

It was less than two hours to Fuchu. Kyutaro rode in front while Hideyoshi himself rode in the middle of the vanguard. They were soon in sight of the castle walls. Inside the castle, the men were naturally feeling extremely tense. Viewed from the top of the keep, the columns of men and Hideyoshi's standard of the golden gourds looked close enough to touch.

The order to halt had not yet been given. And, as Hideyoshi was in their midst, the soldiers of the vanguard were sure that he would surround the castle immediately.

Moving toward the main gate of Fuchu Castle, Hideyoshi's mennow like a rushing riverdisplayed the "crane wing" formation. For a moment, only the commander's standard did not move.

Just then, the entire structure of the castle spat out gunpowder smoke.

"Move back a little, Kyutaro. Move back!" Hideyoshi ordered. "Don't have the soldiers spread out or take up battle array. Order them to regroup and stand out of formation."

The soldiers in the vanguard retreated, and the muskets within the castle were silenced. The fighting spirits of both sides, however, could have exploded in an instant.

"Somebody take the commander's standard and advance twenty yards ahead of me," Hideyoshi ordered. "I won't need anyone to lead my horse; I'll be going into the castle by myself."

He had not informed anyone of his intentions beforehand, and spoke quite suddenly from the saddle. Ignoring the shocked expressions of his generals, he immediately went forward with his horse at a canter toward the main gate of the castle.

"Just a moment! Wait just a moment so I can go ahead of you!"

A samurai went stumbling quickly after him, but when he had gotten barely ten yards in front of Hideyoshi, bearing the commander's standard as he had been ordered, several shots rang out, their fire directed toward the golden gourds.

"Hold your fire! Hold your fire!"

Yelling in a loud voice, Hideyoshi galloped in the direction of the musket fire like an arrow shot from a bow.

"It's me! Hideyoshi! Don't you recognize me?" As he approached the castle, he took the golden baton of command from his waist and waved it at the soldiers in the castle. "It's me! Hideyoshi! Hold your fire!"

Astonished, two men leaped from the armory next to the main gate and pushed the gate open.

"Lord Hideyoshi?"

This turn of events seemed to be totally unexpected, and they greeted him with some embarrassment. Hideyoshi recognized both of the men. He had already dismounted and was walking toward them.

"Has Lord Inuchiyo returned?" he asked, then added, "Are both he and his son all right?"

"Yes, my lord" one of the men replied. "They both returned without mishap."

"Good, good. I'm relieved to hear that. Take my horse, will you?"

Handing his horse's bridle over to the two men, Hideyoshi went in through the castle gate exactly as if he were walking into his own house, accompanied by his own attendants.

The warriors filling the castle like a forest were overawed asalmost in a dazethey observed the behavior of the man. At that moment Inuchiyo and his son ran out in Hideyoshi's direction. As they approached each other, the two men spoke out at once, like the old friends they were.

"Well, well now!"

"Inuchiyo! What are you up to?" Hideyoshi asked.

"Nothing at all," Inuchiyo replied with a laugh. "Come in and sit down."

Accompanied by his son, Inuchiyo led the way in to the main citadel. Expressly avoiding the formal entrance, they opened up the gate to the gardened area and led their guest directly toward the inner apartments, stopping to look at the purple irises and the white azaleas in the garden along the way.

It was the same treatment one would give a close family friend, and Inuchiyo was acting the way he had acted when he and Hideyoshi had lived in houses separated by a hedge.

Finally, Inuchiyo invited Hideyoshi inside.

Hideyoshi, however, stood looking around without even moving to untie his straw sandals. "That building over thereis that the kitchen?" he asked. When Inuchiyo answered affirmatively, Hideyoshi started walking toward it. "I want to see your wife. Is she here?

Inuchiyo was completely taken aback. He was about to tell Hideyoshi that if he wanted to meet his wife, he would call her right away, but there was not enough time for that. Instead, he hurriedly told Toshinaga to take their guest to the kitchen.

Having sent his son to chase after Hideyoshi, he himself hurried down the corridor to warn his wife.

The most surprised of all were the cooks and the maidservants. Here was a short samuraiclearly a generalin a persimmon-colored armor coat, walking nonchalantly into the kitchen and calling out as if he were a member of the lord's family.

Hey! Is Lady Maeda here? Where is she?"

No one knew who he was. Everyone looked puzzled, but upon seeing his golden baton of command and formal sword, they all quickly knelt and bowed. He had to be a general of high rank, but no one had seen him among the Maeda before.

Hey, Lady Maeda, where are you? It's me, Hideyoshi. Come on, show your face!"

Inuchiyo's wife was preparing food with some of the servants when she heard all the commotion. She came out wearing an apron and with her sleeves tied back. For a moment she simply stood and stared. "I must be dreaming," she murmured.

It's been a long time, my lady. I'm glad to see you're well as always."

When Hideyoshi started to step forward, she roused herself and, quickly loosening the cord at her sleeves, prostrated herself on the wooden floor.

Hideyoshi artlessly sat down. "The first thing I want to tell you, my lady, is that your daughter and the ladies in Himeji have become good friends. Please set your mind at ease about that. Also, although your husband saw some trying moments in this last campaign, he showed no confusion about whether to advance or retreat, and you could say that the Maeda camp came away from the battle undefeated."

Inuchiyo's wife placed the palms of her hands together beneath her bowed forehead.

At that point Inuchiyo came in looking for his wife and saw Hideyoshi. '

This is no place to receive you properly. Before anything else, at least please remove your sandals and come up off the dirt floor."

Husband and wife did everything they could to persuade him to step up onto the wooden floor, but Hideyoshi declined, speaking to them as informally as before. "I'm in a hurry to get to Kitanosho and really can't spare the time right now. But may I take advantage of your kindness and ask for a bowl of rice?"

"That's an easy request to fill. But won't you come in just for a moment?"

Hideyoshi made no move to untie his straw sandals and relax. "We'll do that on another day. Today I have to move fast."

Both husband and wife knew the good and bad points of Hideyoshi's character. Theirs had never been a friendship that placed great value on obligations or pretense. Inuchiyo's wife retied the cord holding up her sleeves, and she herself stood in front of the cutting board in the kitchen. It was the kitchen for the entire castle, and a great number of maidservants, cooks,and even officials were working there. But Lady Maeda was not a woman who did not know how to prepare a savory meal on short notice.

Both on that day and the day before, she herself had looked after the wounded and helped with the preparation of their food. But even on uneventful days, she would come to the kitchen to prepare something for her husband. Now the Maeda clan governed a large province. But in the poverty of their days in Kiyosu, when their neighbor Tokichiro was no better off than they, the two families would often go to each other to borrow a measure of rice, a handful of salt, or even an evening's worth of oil for the lamp. In those days they could see how well off the neighbors were by the light shining in their windows at night.

This woman is no less a good wife than my own Nene, Hideyoshi thought. In that short interlude of reflection, however, Inuchiyo's wife had finished preparing two or three dishes. She led the way from the kitchen, carrying the tray herself.

In the hilly area that stretched toward the western citadel, a small pavilion stood in a copse of pines. The attendants spread a rug out over the grass next to it and set down two trays of food and flasks of sake.

"Can't I at least serve you something better, even if you're in a hurry?" Inuchiyo's wife asked.

"No, no. Won't your husband and son join me?"

Inuchiyo sat down facing Hideyoshi, and Toshinaga held up the sake flask. There was a building here, but the guest and his hosts did not use it. A wind blew through the pines, but they hardly heard it.

Hideyoshi did not drink more than one cup of sake but hurriedly ate up the two bowls of rice that Inuchiyo's wife had prepared for him.

"Ah, I'm full. I'm sorry to impose, but might I ask for a bowl of tea?"

Preparations had already been made in the pavilion. Inuchiyo's wife quickly went inside and served Hideyoshi a bowl of tea.

"Well, my lady," Hideyoshi said as he drank, looking at her as though he were about to ask her advice. "I've given you a lot of trouble, but now, on top of that, I'd like to borrow your husband for a little while."

Inuchiyo's wife laughed cheerfully. "'To borrow my husband?' It's been a long time since you've used that phrase."

Hideyoshi and Inuchiyo both laughed, and Hideyoshi said, "Listen to that, Inuchiyo. It appears that women don't easily forget old grudges. She's still talking today about how I used to 'borrow' you to go drinking." Returning the tea bowl, he laughed again. "But today it's just a little different from the past, and if my lady doesn't disagree, I'm sure your husband won't either. I would definitely like him to go with me to Kitanosho. It would be fine if your son stays here to take care of you."

Seeing that the question had already been settled between the talking and the laughing, Hideyoshi quickly made the decision on his own. "What I would like, then, is for your son to stay here and your husband to ride with me. Inuchiyo has no equal as a man skilled in battle. Then, on the happy day when we return from the campaign, I'd like to stop here again and impose on you for a few days. We'll depart tomorrow morning. I'll take my leave for today."The entire family saw him as far as the entrance to the kitchen. On the way Inuchiyo's wife said, "Lord Hideyoshi, you said that Toshinaga should stay here to take care of his mother, but I don't think I'm that old or that lonely yet. There will be enough warriors keft guarding the castle, and no one will need to feel anxious about its defense."

Inuchiyo was of the same mind. As they walked hurriedly toward the entrance, Hidyoshi and the Maeda family finalized the hour of departure for the following day and settled other details.

Ill be waiting for the next time you drop by," Inuchiyo's wife said as she bade him farewell at the entrance to the kitchen; her husband and son took him as far as the front gate of the castle.

The very night Hideyoshi took leave of the Maeda family and returned to his own camp, two very important men from the Shibata side were brought in as prisoners. One of them was Sakuma Genba. The other was Katsuie's foster son, Katsutoshi. Both had been captured during their flight through the mountains to Kitanosho. Genba had been wouned. With the heat of the summer, the wound had become infected and quickly began to fester. The emergency treatment often used by warriors was moxibustion, and Genba had stopped at a farmhouse in the mountains, asked for moxa, and applied it around the opening of the wound.

Wile Genba was busy applying the moxa, the farmers held a secret conclave in which they decided that they would probably receive a handsome reward for turning Katsutoshi and Genba over to Hideyoshi. That night they surrounded the hut where the two were sleeping, trussed them up like pigs, and carried them to Hideyoshi's camp.

When Hideyoshi heard about that, he did not look very happy. Contrary to the farmers expectations, he punished them severely.

The following day Hideyoshi, accompanied by Inuchiyo and his son, spurred his horse toward Katsuie's castle at Kitanosho. By afternoon, Echizen's capital was filled with Hideyoshi's troops.

Along the way, the Tokuyama and Fuwa clans had already seen what was in the wind, and many men surrendered at the gate of Hideyoshi's camp.

Hideyoshi camped on Mount Ashiba and had the castle at Kitanosho surrounded so tightly that a drop of water could not have trickled through. As soon as that was done, Kyutaro's corps was given the work of breaking through a section of the palisade. Then Genba and Katsutoshi were led up close to the castle walls.

Beating the attack drum, the soldiers assailed the ears of Katsuie, who was inside the castle. "If you have any last words for your foster son and Genba, you'd better come out and say them now!"

That message was given two or three times, but the castle remained silent. Katsuie did not appear, perhaps thinking that to see the two men would be unbearable. And of course it was clear that Hideyoshi's strategy was to destroy the morale of the men in the castle.

Stragglers from Katsuie's army had arrived during the night, and now the castle was sheltering about three thousand souls, including noncombatants.

In addition, Genba and Katsutoshi had been taken alive by the enemy, and even Katsuie could not help thinking that his end had come. The attack drums of the enemy were unceasing. By nightfall, the surrounding palisades had all been broken through, andthe entire area was filled with Hideyoshi's forces to within thirty or forty yards of the castle walls themselves.

Nevertheless, inside the castle the situation remained peaceful. After a while the enemy's drums ceased; night was approaching, and generals who seemed to be envoys were going back and forth from the castle to the outside. Maybe there was a move afoot to spare Katsuie's life, or perhaps the generals were envoys for capitulation. Such rumors spread, but the atmosphere inside the castle did not seem to corroborate those theories.

As the evening passed, the main citadelwhich had been as black as inkwas cheerfully lit with lanterns. The northern enclosure and the western citadel were also lit up. Bright lamps shone at intervals even in the keep, where desperate soldiers were on watch, waiting to do battle.

The attacking troops wondered what was going on. But the mystery was soon solved. They could hear the beating of drums now along with the flowing sound of flutes. Folk songs heavy with the accent of the northern provinces drifted to within earshot.

"The people in the castle know this is their last night and are probably enjoying a farewell banquet. How sad."

The attacking troops outside the castle felt sympathy for its inhabitants. Both the men inside the castle and those outside had been soldiers under the command of the Oda, and there was not a person there who did not know Katsuie's past. For that reason alone, the situation was a deeply emotional one.

A final banquet was held in the castle of Kitanosho. It was attended by more than eighty peoplethe entire clan and the senior retainers. Katsuie's wife and her daughters sat under the bright lamps in the middle of the group while the enemy army waited outside, only a short distance away.

"We didn't even get together like this to celebrate the first day of the new year!" someone said, and the entire family laughed. "With the dawn, the first day of our life in the next world will begin. Tonight will be our New Year's Eve in this world."

With the numerous lamps and the many laughing voices, the gathering seemed no different from an ordinary banquet. Only the presence of armed warriors caused a bleak cloud to float through the hall.

The makeup and dress of Oichi and her three daughters lent an unbelievably fresh and even elegant air to the event. The youngest of the three sisters was only ten years old, and when they saw the child making merry among the trays of food and the noisy people, gulping her food and playing pranks on her older sisters, even the old warriors who thought nothing of their imminent deaths had to look off in another direction.

Katsuie had drunk too much. Any number of times, as he offered a cup to someone, he would let his loneliness slip, saying, "If only Genba were here." When he heard someone expressing chagrin at Genba's failure, he would protest: "Stop blaming Genba. This disaster is fully on account of my own mistakes. When I hear you blaming Genba, I feel worse than if I were being attacked."

He took care that everyone around him was drinking and distributed the best sake in the storehouse to the warriors in the towers. With the sake came his message:

"Express your farewells to your hearts' content. Reciting poems wouldn't be at all amiss."Songs were heard coming from the towers, and laughing voices filled the room. Even in front of Katsuie drums were sounded, and the silver fans of the dancers drew elegant lines in the air.

Long ago, Lord Nobunaga would get up and dance at the slightest provocation and try to force me to do the same, but I was always ashamed of my inability." Katsuie reminisced. "How regrettable! I should have learned at least one dance just for tonight."

In his heart he must have truly missed his former lord. And there was something else. Even though he had been driven to his present predicamentwhich was truly nothing less than hopelessby a single monkey-faced soldier, it is certain that he secretly hoped at least to die a glorious death.

He was only fifty-three years old. As a general, his future should have been ahead of him, but now his only hope was for a noble death.

The sake made the rounds. Cup after cup was consumed, and the many barrels dried with the night. There was singing accompanied by drums, dances with silver fans, and cheerful shouts and laughing voices, but nothing that they did could completely sweep he atmosphere of sorrow.

From time to time, an icy silence and the black smoke coughed into the night by the flickering of the lamps exposed on the eighty drunken faces a pale color that had nothing with drinking sake. The lamps showed it was midnight, but still the banquet went on. Oichi's daughters leaned against her lap and began to sleep. To them, this banquet scome too boring to bear, it seemed.

At some point the youngest daughter had taken over her mother's lap as a pillow and was now sleeping silently. As Oichi touched her daughter's hair, she struggled to hold back her tears. The middle daughter also eventually began to doze. Only the eldest, Chacha, seemed to understand what her mother was thinking. She knew what the evening's banquet was about and yet, she still managed to look serene.

The girls were beautiful, and all three resembled their mother, but Chacha was especially-endowed with the aristocratic bearing that ran through the blood of the Oda. The combination of her youth and natural beauty could not help but make the beholder sad.

She's so innocent," Katsuie said suddenly, looking at the sleeping face of the youngest child. He then spoke with Lady Oichi about the fate of the girls. "Your own status is that :d Nobunaga's sister, and it has not yet been even a year since you became my wife. It would be better if you took the children and left the castle before dawn. I'll have Tominaga accompany you to Hideyoshi's camp."

Oichi answered with tears in her eyes. "No!" she said through her tears. "When a woman marries into a warrior family, she is resolved to accept her own karma. To tell me to leave the castle now is truly cold-hearted, and it's unthinkable that I should go begging at Hideyoshi's camp gate, asking him to spare my life."

She looked at Katsuie, shaking her head behind her sleeve. But Katsuie tried once again. "No, no. It gives me pleasure to think that you would be so faithful to me when our relationship is still so shallow, but your three daughters are the children of Lord Asai. than that, Hideyoshi would certainly not be heartless to the sister of Lord Nobunaga or to her children. So you should go ahead and leave, and leave quickly. Go prepare yourself."Calling over one of his retainers, Katsuie gave the man instructions and told them to get started. But Oichi only shook her head and refused to move.

"But even though you are so determined, may these innocent children at least leave the castle as my lord wishes?"

She gave the appearance of agreeing with him. Then she shook awake the youngest child, who was sleeping on her lap, and told the children they were to be sent outside the castle.

Chacha clung to her mother. "I don't want to go. I don't want to go. I want to be with you, Mother!"

Katsuie spoke to her and her mother tried to persuade her, but they were unable to stop her desperate tears. Finally she was led away and forced out of the castle against her will. The sobs of the three girls could be heard as they moved far into the distance. It was already close to the fourth watch of the night, and the joyless party was over. The warriors quickly retied the leather straps of their armor, picked up their weapons, and began to disperse to their final posts, the posts that would be the places of their deaths.

Katsuie, his wife, and the several members of the clan moved together into the interior of the main citadel.

Oichi had a small desk brought to her and began to grind the ink for her death poem. Katsuie also left a poem.

While the night was the same everywhere, it was not the same for everyone. The dawn was quite different for the vanquished and the victor.

"Make sure we have taken the surrounding walls by the time the sky turns white, Hideyoshi ordered, and then waited peacefully for the dawn.

The town was also relatively calm. Fires broke out in two or three places. They had not been set by Hideyoshi's soldiers but more likely had been started accidentally by the confused townspeople. Because they could serve as bonfires that would illuminate surprise attacks from the soldiers in the castle, they were allowed to burn all night.

Various generals had gone in and out of Hideyoshi's quarters from evening until midnight. Because of that, there was talk that either a movement was afoot to spare Katsuie's life or that the castle would soon capitulate. Nevertheless, even after midnight, no change was made in the original battle strategy.

The quick activity in every camp meant that dawn was close. Soon the conch shell was sounded. The beating of the drum began splitting the mist. It reverberated with a boom throughout the entire camp.

The assault began precisely at the Hour of the Tiger as had been planned. The attack commenced as the troops facing the castle wall opened a barrage of gunfire.

The popping of the guns reverberated uncannily through the mist, but then suddenly both the gunfire and the war cries of the vanguard stopped.

Just then a lone rider broke through the mist, whipping his horse from Kyutaro's position to Hideyoshi's camp stool. Behind him ran a single enemy samurai and three young girls.

"Hold your fire! Stop the attack!" the rider shouted.

The fugitives were, of course, Nobunaga's nieces. Ignorant of the wearers, the soldiers watched as six elegant sleeves went by, soaked in the mist. The eldest sister held her middle sister's hand, while she in turn took care of the youngest. They tiptoed over the stony road. It was considered the proper etiquette for fugitives to go with very little to protect their feet, and the little princesses were no exception, walking on the earth in nothing but heavy silk socks.

The youngest stopped walking and said she wanted to return to the castle. The samurai who had accompanied them from the castle calmed her down by putting her on his back.

Where are we going?" the little girl asked with a shudder.

We're going to a nice man's place," Shinroku answered.

No! I don't want to go!" the girl cried.

The older girls did their best to calm her down.

Mother should be coming later on. Right, Shinroku?"

Yes. Of course she is."

Pattering on like that, they finally approached the stand of pines where Hideyoshi had made his camp.

Hideyoshi came out from behind the curtain and stood beneath a pine tree, watching them approach. He walked up to meet the girls.

They all have the family resemblance," he said when he saw them up close.

Was it the figure of Nobunaga or that of Oichi that was conjured up within his beast? Whichever it was, he was completely charmed and could only mutter that they were good children. A tassel hung elegantly from Chacha's plum-colored sleeve. Against the middle sister's sleeve, which was embroidered with a bold pattern, was a red sash. The youngest girl was dressed no less elegantiy than her sisters. Each had a tiny satchel scented with aloeswood and a tiny golden bell.

How old are you?" Hideyoshi asked. But none of the three would answer. On the contrary, their lips turned so white they gave the impression that if you touched them they would burst into tears.

Hideyoshi laughed lightly and displayed a smile. "There is nothing to fear, my little princesses. From now on you can play with me." And he pointed to his own nose.

The middle sister laughed a little, perhaps because she was the only one who was reminded of a monkey.

But suddenly the gunfire and war cries shook the area even more strongly than before, sweeping over the entire area of the castle. Overhead, the morning sky began to appear.

The little princesses saw the smoke rising from the castle walls and started to scream and cry in confusion.

Hideyoshi put the girls in the care of a retainer, then called vehemently for a horse and rode off in the direction of the castle.

The two moats along the outer walls that drew in the waters of the Kuzuryu River did not allow the attacking troops an easy approach.

When at last, however, they were able to cross the outer moat, the soldiers in the castle had set fire to the bridge at the front gate. The flames leaped to the tower over the gate and spread to the area of the barracks. The resistance of the defenders was furious beyond the attackers' anticipation.

At noon the outer castle fell. The attackers flowed into the main citadel from every one of the gates.

Katsuie and his senior retainers had gone to the keep to make their final stand. The mighty keep was a nine-story building with iron doors and stone pillars.

After two hours of fighting in the keep, the attacking soldiers had sustained many more casualties than they had suffered during the whole morning. The courtyard and the tower were a sea of flames. Hideyoshi ordered a temporary retreat. Perhaps because he saw that they were making little headway, he pulled back every corps.

During that time he selected several hundred stalwart warriors. No one was to carry firearms; only spears and swords.

"Now I'm going to see it done! Cut your way into the tower!" he ordered.

The specially picked spear corps immediately enveloped the tower like a swarm of wasps and soon penetrated into the interior.

Jet black smoke poured from the third floor, from the fourth, then from the fifth.

"Good!" Hideyoshi yelled when a huge umbrella of flames shot out from the tower's multifaceted eaves.

That was the flash that signaled Katsuie's end. Katsuie and the eighty members of his household held the attackers back on the third and fourth floors of the keep and fought hard until the very end, slipping in the spilled blood. But now three members of his family called to him.

"Prepare yourself quickly, my lord!"

Running up to the fifth floor, he joined Lady Oichi. After witnessing her death, Shibata Katsuie ended his life by cutting open his stomach.

It was the Hour of the Monkey. The keep burned all night. The magnificent buildings that had stood on the banks of the Kuzuryu River since the time of Nobunaga burned like a funeral pyre for innumerable past dreams and a thousand souls. Nothing, however, could be found in the ashes that in any way resembled Katsuie.

It was said that he had packed dry grass into the tower with meticulous care so that he would be burned up completely. And for that reason, Katsuie's head could never be offered as sure proof of his death. For a while some said that Katsuie had escaped, but Hideyoshi reacted with almost complete indifference to those rumors. By the following day he had already turned toward Kaga.

Oyama Castle in Kaga had been until the day before the headquarters of Sakuma Genba. When the fall of Kitanosho was reported, the people in that area could see what was in the wind and surrendered to Hideyoshi. He entered Oyama Castle without a fight. But the more victories his armies won, the more he warned them about the gravity of the situation and cautioned them against the slackening of military discipline. His aim was to overawe the solid warriors of the Shibata and their allies once and for all.

Sassa Narimasa in Toyama Castle was one of those warriors. Indeed, he was a strong supporter of the Shibata and held Hideyoshi in complete contempt. In terms of lineage, Sassa was far above Hideyoshi. He had been Katsuie's second in command during the northern campaign, and during the campaign against Hideyoshi, he had been asked to stay behind, not only to check the Uesugi clan but also to manage internal matters in the north.

Sassa is here. That is the stance he took as he glared out of the castle, standing firm in his guardianship of the northern provinces. Even though Katsuie had already perished and Kitanosho had fallen, there was a good possibility thatwith his natural ferocity and professed dislike of HideyoshiSassa might make a desperate effort to step into Katsuie's shoes and do his best to prolong the war. And he was indeed thinking of doing that by combining his own fresh troops with the remaining Shibata.

Hideyoshi purposely did not confront the man. The numbers of Hideyoshi's army demonstrated his power, and he decided to let their presence persuade Sassa to reconsider his position. In the meantime he approached the Uesugi clan with an invitation to form an alliance. Uesugi Kagekatsu sent a retainer to congratulate Hideyoshi on his victory and to respond affirmatively to Hideyoshi's offer.

Considering the apparently friendly relationship between Hideyoshi and the Uesugi clan, Sassa Narimasa found it impossible to plan a battle of resistance. He therefore disguised his intentions and finally declared his submission to Hideyoshi. He then married his daughter to Inuchiyo's second son, Toshimasa, and settled down with relief in his own province. Thus the area north of Kitanosho was pacified by momentum, and virtually no fighting had been required.

Having secured the north, Hideyoshi's victorious army returned to Nagahama Castle on the Boys' Festival, the fifth day of the Fifth Month.

At Nagahama Hideyoshi listened to reports of the situation in Gifu. After Kitanosho, it was chiefly Gifu Castie that continued its attacks on Hideyoshi, but after the great defeat of the Shibata, the martial spirit of Nobutaka and his soldiers was considerably dampened. To make matters worse, there were in Nagahama Castle many retainers from Gifu who had deserted Nobutaka and joined Hideyoshi. In the end, the situation had become so extreme that a mere twenty-seven men remained with Nobutaka. Because Nobutaka had relied particularly upon the Shibata, for him their destruction was akin to cutting the roots of a plant. His men all deserted him, except for his favorites. Nobuo assembled his forces and surrounded Nobutaka's castle. He sent a message saying his brother should go to Owari.

Nobutaka left Gifu Castle, took a boat, and landed at Utsumi in Owari. One of Nobuo's attendants went to Nobutaka with an order for him to commit seppuku, and, feeling that his time had come, Nobutaka calmly wrote out his last words and then took his own life. Thus Nobutaka's end was caused by his own brother. But the man who was behind his death was Hideyoshi. It is hardly necessary to say that Hideyoshi was unwilling to attack Nobutakawho was so closely related to Nobunagawith his own army, and so resorted to using Nobuo.

At any rate, the mediocrity of Nobuo and Nobutaka cannot be doubted. If they had made their minds one as brothersor if either one had been distinguished in bravery and blessed with an eye that could perceive the tide of the timesthey would not have experienced such a collapse in the end. Compared with Nobuo, who showed a good-natured stupidity, Nobutaka was a bit more courageous. But he was really not much more than an incompetent bluffer.On that seventh day Hideyoshi left for Azuchi, stopping at Sakamoto Castle on the eleventh. In Ise, Takigawa Kazumasu also surrendered. Hideyoshi gave him a province in Omi worth five thousand bushels. He did not venture to question Kazumasu about his past crimes.


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