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The Hooded Warrior

Ikeda Shonyu was famous for three things: his short stature, his courage, and his skill at the spear dance. He was forty-eight, the same age as Hideyoshi.

Hideyoshi had no son; Shonyu, however, had three in whom he could take pride, and all three of them had grown to manhood. The eldest, Yukisuke, was twenty-five and the commlander of Gifu Castle; the second, Terumasa, was twenty and the commander of Ikejiri Castle; and the youngest would be fourteen this year and was still at his father's side.

Shonyu's relationship with Hideyoshi went back to the time when Hideyoshi was still called Tokichiro. By this time, however, a large gulf had opened up between the two. But Shonyu had not been left behind by the times. After Nobunaga's death, he was one of the menalong with Katsuie, Niwa, and Hideyoshiwho had been appointed to administer the government of Kyoto, and even if the position was a temporary one, it was prestigious. Moreover, right here in Mino, father and sons possessed three castles, while his son-in-law, Nagayoshi, was the commander of Kaneyama Castle.

It could not be said that he had fared badly. Nor was there any reason for him to feel uneasy. Hideyoshi was always tactful and often paid attention to his old friend. He even is nephew, Hidetsugu, engaged to Shonyu's daughter.

Thus in peacetime Hideyoshi shrewdly strengthened the ties between them against the day of emergency, but this yearas the decisive battle became more and more inevitablehe leaned more heavily on Shonyu as his main ally. Now he suddenly sent a messenger to Ogaki offering to adopt his son-in-law, Nagayoshi, and to give him the provinces of Owari, Mino, and Mikawa.

Twice Hideyoshi sent letters written by his own hand. The fact that Shonyu did not send a quick response did not mean he was envious or mean-hearted. He knew well thatserving Hideyoshi would be more advantageous than serving anyone else. And he understood that, while Hideyoshi had great ambitions, he himself would also receive great advantages.

What made it difficult for Shonyu to rouse himself to a response was simply the problem of the widely discussed moral justification for war between the eastern and western armies. The Tokugawa accused Hideyoshi of being a traitor who had already eliminated one of the sons of his former lord and was now ready to strike down his heir, Nobuo.

If I ally myself to Hideyoshi, Shonyu thought, I will have taken a poor step in terms of moral duty; if I help Nobuo, I'll be standing on moral duty, but my hopes for the future will be dim.

And Shonyu had yet another worry. Shonyu had close ties with Nobunaga, and because of that deep relationship he could not easily sever his relationship with Nobuo, even after Nobunaga's death. To make matters worse, his eldest son was a hostage in Ise, and Shonyu did not feel he could just abandon him to be killed. So, every time he received one of Hideyoshi's letters, Shonyu was confused. When he discussed the matter with his retainers, he listened to advice from two factions, one stressing the importance of justice and counseling against abandoning moral duty; and the other arguing that now was the time when a great advantage might be gained for the prosperity of the clan.

What was he going to do? Just as his confusion was growing more and more acute, his eldest son was unexpectedly sent home from Nagashima. Nobuo thought that Shonyu would be grateful to him and never betray him. Such an obvious ruse might have had the desired effect on someone else, but Shonyu was a man of some insight. He understood the act to be nothing more than a childish, high-pressure goodwill sales tactic and a transparent political calculation.

"I've made my decision. In a dream the Buddha told me to join the western army," he announced to his retainers. On the same day he sent a letter to Hideyoshi, declaring himself his ally.

He was, of course, lying about the dream from the Buddha, but immediately after Shonyu had made his decision, the general's innate ambition was suddenly set aflame by a casual conversation with his eldest son.

What Yukisuke mentioned was that the commander of Inuyama Castle, Nakagawa Kanemon, had received his orders to return to Inuyama soon after he himself had been released from Nagashima.

Until that day, Shonyu had been unable to decide whether Inuyama Castle would be his ally or enemy, but now that he had sent word of his support for Hideyoshi, Inuyama Castle would be an enemy right in front of him. Moreover, the castle was in a strategic area with natural defenses, and it was certain that Ieyasu and Nobuo considered Nakagawa Kanemon able enough to entrust with the first-line defenses of their provinces. If that were so, he had no doubt been suddenly detached from the Ise army for that purpose and ordered to return to his own castle.

"Summon the leader of the Blue Herons," Shonyu ordered an attendant.

In a valley beyond the rear entrance of the castle was a collection of huts belonging to the men employed from outside of the clan. They were called the Blue Heron Corps. From that encampment, Shonyu's attendant called out a short, solidly built young man of about twenty-five years of age. It was Sanzo, the captain of the Blue Herons. Receiving his instructions from the attendant, he went through the rear castle gate and into the inner garden.

Shonyu was standing in the shade of a tree, and beckoned him forward with a thrust of his chin. Then, as Sanzo prostrated himself at his lord's feet, Shonyu gave him his orders in person.

The name of the Blue Heron Corps was derived from the color of their blue cotton uniforms. Whenever an incident occurred, they would fly off to unknown destinations, lke a flock of blue herons taking flight.

Three days later, Sanzo returned from some undisclosed location. He quickly went through the rear gate of the castle and, just as before, bowed before Shonyu in the inner garden. Shonyu then received the freshly bloodstained sword that Sanzo took from an oil-paper wrapping and inspected it carefully.

This is it, certainly," Shonyu said, nodding, and then added in praise, "You did well." He gave several gold coins to Sanzo as a reward.

There was little doubt that the sword was the one carried by Nakagawa Kanemon, the commander of Inuyama Castle. His family crest was lacquered onto the scabbard.

Thank you for your generosity, my lord," Sanzo said, and started to withdraw, but Shonyu told him to wait. Once again summoning an attendant, he had so much money set in front of Sanzo that it would have to be carried out on the back of a horse. An official and the personal attendant wrapped the coins in a number of reed-mat bales as Sanzo stood there in openmouthed surprise.

I want you to do another job, Sanzo."

'Yes, my lord."

I've given the details very carefully to three of my most trusted men. I want you to disguise yourself as a packhorse driver, load this money on a horse, and ride along behind those three men."

And what is our destination?"

Don't ask."

Yes, my lord."

If everything goes as planned, I'll promote you to the rank of samurai."

Thank you, my lord."

Sanzo was a bold and fearless man, but he was more unnerved by the sight of the great amount of money than he would have been by a pool of blood. He prostrated himself again, putting his head to the ground almost excessively. When he raised it, he saw an old man, who looked like a country samurai, and two stout youths who were loading the bales of money onto a horse's saddle.

Shonyu and Yukisuke shared a bowl of morning tea in the tearoom. Appearing to be simply the long-separated father and son privately eating breakfast together, they were actually totally engrossed in a secret discussion.

I'll set out for Gifu immediately," Yukisuke said finally. When he left the tearoom, Yukisuke quickly ordered his retainers to prepare his horse. He had planned to return immediately to his own castle at Gifu, but now those plans were postponed for two or three days.

"Don't make any mistakes tomorrow night," Shonyu cautioned him in a low voice.

Yukisuke nodded with a knowing expression, but in the eyes of his father this ardent young man still looked like a mere child.

But on the evening of the following daythe thirteenth of the monthwhat Shonyu's thoughts had been and why he had sent Yukisuke to Gifu the day before were known by everyone inside Ogaki Castle.

Suddenly there came a notice to mobilize. The notice was a great surprise, even to Shonyu's retainers.

In the midst of all the confusion, a commander stepped into the attendant warriors' room, where a number of young samurai were in an uproar of excitement. Making a show of tying up the leather strings to his gloves, he looked at the warriors with an ashen face and said, "We're going to take Inuyama Castle before the night is through."

As might be expected, the one calm spot in the midst of all that commotion was the private room of the commanding general, Shonyu.

With his second son, Terumasa, at his side, he was now exchanging toasts of sake. Both father and son sat on their camp stools, waiting for the hour of departure.

Normally, when the departure of troops was announced, the conch shells were blown, drums and banners flourished, and the troops wound their way majestically through the castle town. But on this occasion mounted men were left in small groups of two or three; foot soldiers were placed both in front and in back; the banners were folded and the firearms concealed. On that hazy spring night in the Third Month, the townspeople might have turned to look and wondered what was happening, but no one would have thought that it was a departure for the front.

Just three leagues from Ogaki, as the troops gathered together once more, Shonyu addressed them: "Let's finish up this battle by dawn, and return home before the day is through. You should travel as lightly as you can."

The town of Inuyama and its castle were directly on the other bank. The river in that spot was the upper reaches of the Kiso. Echoes of the water beating against the boulders or splashing through the shallows reverberated through the air, but wrapped in the deep vapors, the moon, the mountain, and the water appeared to be encased in mica. All that was visible from the shore was the dim light of the lamps on the other shore.

"Dismount."

Shonyu himself got off his horse and set up his camp stool on the riverbank.

"Lord Yukisuke is on time. There are his troops over there," one of Shonyu's retainers pointed out.

Shonyu stood up and peered upstream.

"Scout! Scout!" he called immediately.

One of the scouts ran up to confirm the report. Very soon thereafter, a force of four or five hundred men joined the nearly six hundred troops led by Ikeda Shonyu, and the silhouettes of a thousand men moved together like merging schools of fish.

Sanzo finally trailed in after Yukisuke's men. The sentries on guard looking back to-the rear surrounded him with spears and brought him before Shonyu's camp stool.

Shonyu did not give Sanzo the opportunity to say anything unnecessary as he questioned him on the essential points of his mission.

By that time a number of flat-bottomed fishing boats that had been scattered along the bank began making their way across the water. Dozens of lightly armored soldiers leaned forward and leaped out, one after another, onto the opposite bank. The poles were then quickly set to bring the boats back to transport yet another group across.

In the twinkling of an eye, the only man left on the bank was Sanzo. Finally the shouts of the warriors shook the damp night sky, from the opposite bank to the area just below the castle. In that instant one corner of the sky turned red, and sparks danced and glittered above the castle town.

Shonyu's clever plan had worked perfectly. Inuyama Castle fell in only an hour, its defenders taken by a surprise that was made more complete by treachery inside the castle and the town. Treachery was certainly one reason why a castle with such good natural defenses fell in such a short time. But there was yet another reason: Shonyu had once been the commander of Inuyama Castle, and the townspeople, the headmen in the surrounding villages, and even the farmers still remembered their former master. Although Shonyu had sent retainers to buy off those men with money just before the attack, the success of the plan owed far more to his former position than to bribery.

* * *

A man belonging to an illustrious family in decline tends to attract a complicated set of characters. The farsighted, the frivolous, the men who deplore the present evils but are unable to speak their own words or offer loyal adviceall of those quickly leave the scene. And those who are sensitive to the trends but have neither the strength nor the talent to check the decline also move on at some point.

The only men remaining are of two kinds: those who have no outstanding talents that would support their lives elsewhere if they did leave, and those truly faithful men who are retainers to the very end, through poverty and decline, life and death, happiness and grief.

But who are the true samurai? Those who live expediently or those who remain simply for the sake of opportunism? This is not easily understood, because all of them use every bit of their ingenuity to deceive their lords into overevaluating their talents.

Although he was an opportunist, Ieyasu was a player of an entirely different cast from the infantile Nobuo, who knew absolutely nothing about the world. Ieyasu held Nobuo in the palm of his hand like a chessman-in-reserve.

Well now, you've gone to extraordinary lengths, Lord Nobuo," Ieyasu said. "Really, Ill just have a little more rice. I was brought up in a modest household, so both my palate and my stomach are overwhelmed by the luxury of tonight's meal."

It was the night of the thirteenth. When Ieyasu arrived in Kiyosu that afternoon, Nobuo took him to a temple where the two of them held secret talks for several hours. A banquet was held that evening in the guest rooms in the castle.

Ieyasu had not moved to the center even during the Honno Temple incident. Now, however, he was gambling the Tokugawa clan's entire strengtha strength he had spent many years in building upand had ridden to Kiyosu himself. Nobuo looked to Ieyasu as his savior. He was going to do his best to entertain him, and now he put delicacies in front of him.

But to Ieyasu's eyes, Nobuo's hospitality was really nothing but immature child's play, and he could only feel sorry for the man. At a former time, Ieyasu had feasted and entertained Nobunaga for seven days when the latter was making a triumphal return from Kai on the pretext of sightseeing at Mount Fuji. When he recalled the scale of that event, Ieyasu could only pity the poverty of this evening.

A human being could only view the situation with pity, and Ieyasu felt his share. He was, however, a man who knew that the nature of the universe was change. So, even though he felt pity and sympathy in the middle of such a banquet, he did not suffer any pangs of conscience about his ulterior motive, which was simply to use this fragile and aristocratic fop as his own puppet. The reason was clear: there is no one more likely to kindle disaster than the foolish heir of an illustrious family who has been bequeathed both an inheritance and a reputation. And the more he is capable of being used, the more dangerous he becomes.

Hideyoshi most likely thought the same as Ieyasu. But while Hideyoshi considered Nobuo a hindrance to his own goals and thought of ways to dispose of him, Ieyasu was finding ways to use him. Those opposing viewpoints were based on the same fundamental goal for both Hideyoshi and Ieyasu. And no matter which man won, Nobuo's fate would be the same because he was simply unable to abandon the idea that he was Nobunaga's heir.

"What do you mean?" Nobuo said. "The real feast is just starting. It's a fine spring night, and it would be a shame to go to bed so soon."

Nobuo was trying his best to entertain Ieyasu, but the truth was that Ieyasu had work to do.

"No, Lord Nobuo. His Lordship shouldn't have any more sake. At least judging from the color of his face. Send the cup in our direction."

But Nobuo had not noticed the guest of honor's embarrassing boredom. His efforts were now guided by his misinterpretation of the sleepy look in his guest's eyes. He whispered to his retainers, and the sliding paper doors at the end of the room were quickly removed, revealing an orchestra and dancers. To Ieyasu it was the usual contrivance, but with a patient look he displayed interest at moments, laughed from time to time, and clapped his hands when the performance ended.

Taking this opportunity, his retainers tugged at Ieyasu's sleeve and quietly signaled him that it was time for bed, but in that very instant a comedian appeared with a flourish of musical instruments.

"For the honored guest this evening, we are now going to present a performance of Kabuki, recently received in the capital "

The man's loquacity was incredible. He then sang an introduction to the play. Then another actor introduced a stanza from a chorus and some chants from the Christian mass, which had recently been gaining favor among the lords of the western provinces.

He played an instrument that resembled the viola used in church services, and his clothes were embroidered with a Western-style design and trimmed with lace, dazzlingly harmonized with a traditional Japanese kimono.

The audience was impressed and fascinated. There was no doubt that what pleased the common man also gave pleasure to the great lords and samurai.

Lord Nobuo, Lord Ieyasu says that he's getting sleepy," Okudaira said to Nobuo, who had been completely taken by the play.

Nobuo quickly got up to see Ieyasu off, walking him to his apartments himself. The Kabuki performance had not yet finished, and the viola, flutes, and drums could still be heard.

The following morning Nobuo arose at what was for him an exceptionally early hour and went off to Ieyasu's apartments. There he found Ieyasu ready with the fresh face of dawn, discussing some matter with his retainers.

What about Lord Ieyasu's breakfast?" Nobuo inquired.

When a retainer told him that breakfast had already been served, Nobuo looked a little embarrassed.

At that point a samurai on guard in the garden and a soldier up in the reconnaissance tower yelled back and forth about something going on in the distance. That caught the attention of both Ieyasu and Nobuo, and as they sat silently for a moment, a samurai came up to make a report.

:Black smoke has been visible for a while now in the sky far off to the northwest. At first we thought it was a forest fire, but the smoke gradually changed its location, and then a number of other smoke clouds started rising into the sky."

Nobuo shrugged. If it had been the southeast, he might have thought of the battlefields in Ise or other places, but his expression indicated that he didn't understand at all.

Ieyasu, who had heard reports of Nakagawa's death two days earlier, said, "Isn't that the direction of Inuyama?" Without waiting for an answer, he gave orders to the men around him. "Okudaira, go take a look."

Okudaira ran down the corridor with Nobuo's retainers and climbed the reconnaissance tower.

The footsteps of the men hurriedly descending the tower clearly indicated that a disaster had already occurred.

It could be Haguro, Gakuden, or Inuyama, but whichever it is, it's in that area for sure,Okudaira reported.

The castle had become as agitated as a boiling teakettle. The conch shell could be heard outside, but most of the warriors who immediately rushed around collecting their weapons did not notice that Ieyasu was already there.

When Ieyasu was informed for certain that the flames were coming from the direction of Inuyama, he yelled, "We've bungled it!" and hurried off in a way that was not typical of him.

He whipped his horse to a gallop and rode off toward the smoke in the northwest. His retainers rode at his right and left, not wishing to be left behind. It was no great distance from Kiyosu to Komaki, or from Komaki to Gakuden. From Gakuden to Haguro was another league; and finally, from Haguro to Inuyama, the same distance. By the time they arrived at Komaki, they knew the entire story. Sometime in the early hours of the morning, the castle at Inuyama had fallen. Ieyasu reined in his horse and gazed steadily at the smoke rising from a number of places between Haguro and the neighborhood of Inuyama.

"I'm too late," he muttered bitterly. "I shouldn't be making mistakes like this."

Ieyasu could almost see the face of Shonyu in the rising black smoke. When he had heard the rumor that Nobuo had sent Shonyu's son back to his father, he had had misgivings about the consequences of Nobuo's good-natured act. Nevertheless, he did not think that Shonyu could have hidden his true posture and committed such an underhanded act with such cynicism and speed.

It's not that I didn't know Shonyu is such a crafty old fox, Ieyasu thought. There was no need to consider once again the strategic importance of the stronghold of Inuyama. Close as it was to Kiyosu, its importance in the war against Hideyoshi's army would only increase. Inuyama controlled the upper reaches of the Kiso River, the border between Mino and Owari, and the all-important crossing to Unuma. It was in a position worth a hundred ramparts, and now it had been lost to the enemy.

"Let's go back," Ieyasu said. "The way those flames are rising, there's no doubt that Shonyu and his son have already withdrawn to Gifu."

Ieyasu suddenly turned his horse around, and at that moment the expression on his face returned to normal. The feeling that he imparted to the retainers around him was one of confidence; he was certain he would more than make up for this loss. As they talked vehemently about Shonyu's ingratitude, deplored the cowardice of his surprise attack, and threatened to teach him a lesson on the next battlefield, Ieyasu seemed not to hear them. Grinning silently, he turned his horse back toward Kiyosu.

On the way back they ran into Nobuo, who had left Kiyosu a good bit later at the head of his army. Nobuo stared at Ieyasu as though his return were something completely unexpected.

"Was everything all right at Inuyama?" he asked.

Before Ieyasu could respond, laughing voices were heard among the retainers behind him. As he explained the situation to Nobuo, Ieyasu was truly kind and courteous. Nobuo was crestfallen. Ieyasu brought his horse alongside Nobuo's and comforted him.

"Don't worry. If we have had one defeat here, Hideyoshi will have an even bigger one. Look over there."

With his eyes he indicated the hill at Komaki.

Long before, Hideyoshi had made the acutely strategic observation that Nobunaga should move from Kiyosu to Komaki. It was really nothing more than a round hill only two hundred and eighty feet high, but it dominated the plain on which it stood and would be a convenient base from which to mount an attack in any direction. In a battle on the Owari-Mino plain, if Komaki was fortified, the western army would be impeded in its advance, and thus it would make an excellent location for strategies of both attack and defense.

There was really no time to explain all that to Nobuo, and Ieyasu turned around and pointed, this time speaking to his own retainers. "Start building fortifications on Mount Komaki right away."

As soon as he had given the orders, he began to trot alongside Nobuo, exchanging pleasant conversation with him as they rode back to Kiyosu.

At the time everyone thought Hideyoshi was in Osaka Castle, but he had been in Sakamoto Castle since the thirteenth day of the Third Month, the day Ieyasu was talking with Nobuo in Kiyosu. That kind of tardiness was not typical of him.

Ieyasu had already roused himself to action, completing his plans and making steady progress in his anticipated push from Hamamatsu to Okazaki and then Kiyosu; but Hideyoshi, who had often shocked the world with his lightning speed, was slow to start this time. Or so it seemed.

"Somebody come here! Aren't my pages here?"

It was the master's voice. And, as usual, it was loud.

The young pages, who had intentionally withdrawn to the faraway pages' room, hurriedly put away the game of suguroku they had been surreptitiously playing. From among them, the thirteen-year-old Nabemaru went running off as fast as he could to the room where his lord was repeatedly clapping his hands.

By now Hideyoshi had gone out onto the veranda. Through the front castle gate he could see the tiny figure of Sakichi hastening up the slope from the castle town, and, without looking around toward the footsteps behind him, he shouted out an order to admit him.

Sakichi entered and knelt in front of Hideyoshi.

After he listened to Sakichi's report of the situation at Osaka Castle, Hideyoshi asked, And Chacha? Are Chacha and her sisters well, too?"

For a moment Sakichi displayed an expression that seemed to indicate that he didn't remember. To answer as though he had been waiting for that question would only make Hideyoshi suspicious (That damned Sakichi has found out), and would undoubtedly make him feel uncomfortable later on. The proof was that in the instant he had asked awkwardly about Chacha, Hideyoshi's lordly expression had crumbled and a blush filled what seemed to be his prevaricating face. He looked extremely self-conscious.

Sakichi alertly saw through his discomfort and could not help feeling amused.

After the fall of Kitanosho, Hideyoshi had cared for Oichi's three daughters as though they were his own. When he had built Osaka Castle, he had had a small, bright enclosure constructed just for them. From time to time he would visit and play with them as though he were taking care of some rare birds in a golden cage.

"What are you laughing about, Sakichi?" Hideyoshi challenged him. But he himself felt slightly amused. Obviously, Sakichi had already understood.

"No, it's nothing at all. I was distracted by my other responsibilities and returned without visiting the three princesses' quarters."

"Is that so? Well, fine." With that, Hideyoshi quickly changed the subject to other gossip. "What rumors did you hear around the Yodo River and Kyoto while you were on the road?"

Hideyoshi inevitably asked a question like that whenever he sent a messenger to a far-off place.

"Wherever I went, war was the only topic of conversation."

When he questioned Sakichi further about conditions in Kyoto and Osaka, he found out that everyone thought that the battle provoked by Nobuo would not actually be fought between Hideyoshi and the Oda heir, but that it would be between Hideyoshi and Ieyasu. After Nobunagas death, it was thought that peace would finally be established by Hideyoshi, but once again the nation had been divided in half, and the people's hearts were steeped in anxiety at the specter of a great conflict that would probably extend into every province.

Sakichi withdrew, and as he left, two of Niwa Nagahide's generals, Kanamori Kingo and Hachiya Yoritaka, appeared. Hideyoshi had been going to great lengths to make Niwa his ally because he knew that he would be at a serious disadvantage if he drove him into the enemy camp. Apart from the loss of military strength, Niwa's defection would convince the world that Nobuo and Ieyasu had right on their side. Niwa had been second only to Katsuie among Nobunagas retainers, and he was held in great respect as a man of rare gentility and sincerity.

It was certain that Ieyasu and Nobuo were also offering Niwa every enticement to join them. Perhaps finally moved by Hideyoshi's enthusiasm, however, Niwa had sent Kanamori and Hachiya as the first reinforcements from the north. Hideyoshi was pleased but was nevertheless not completely reassured.

Before nightfall messengers arrived three times with reports on the situation in Ise. Hideyoshi read the dispatches and questioned the messengers in person, entrusted them with verbal replies, and had letters of response written as he ate his evening meal.

A large folding screen stood in the corner of the room. A map of Japan on its two panels had been painted in gold leaf. Hideyoshi looked at the map and asked, "Haven't we heard from Echizen? What about the messenger I sent to the Uesugi?"

While his retainers made some excuse about the distances involved, Hideyoshi counted on his fingers. He had sent messages to the Kiso and to the Satake. The net of his diplomacy had been carefully thrown over the length and breadth of the country shown on the screen. By his very nature, Hideyoshi considered war to be the last resort. It was an article of faith with him that diplomacy itself was a battle. But it was not diplomacy for its own sake. Nor did it have its source in military weakness. His diplomacy was always backed up by military strength and was employed after his military authority and troops had been completely provided for. But diplomacy had not worked with Ieyasu. He had said nothing about it to anyone, but long before the situation had reached this pass, Hideyoshi had sent a man to Hamamatsu with the following message:

If you will take into consideration my petition to the Emperor last year for your promotion, you will understand my warm feelings toward you. Is there any reason we should fight? It is generally accepted throughout the nation that Lord Nobuo is weak-minded. No matter how much you wave the flag of moral duty and embrace the remnants of the Oda clan, the world is not going to admire your efforts as those of a man of virtue commanding a righteous army. In the end, there is no value in the two of us fighting. You are an intelligent man, and if you come to terms with me, I will add the provinces of Owari and Mino to your domain.

The outcome of such proposals depends on the other party, however, and the answer that was returned to Hideyoshi had been clearly negative. But even after he had cut off relations with Nobuo, Hideyoshi still sent messengers with even better conditions than before, trying to persuade Ieyasu. The envoys only incurred Ieyasu's indignation, however, and returned utterly discomfited.

"Lord Ieyasu replies that it is Lord Hideyoshi who does not understand him," the envoy reported.

Hideyoshi forced a smile and retorted, "Ieyasu doesn't understand my genuine feelings, either."

No matter what else he did, however, the time he spent in Sakamoto was consumed entirely by work. Sakamoto was both his military headquarters for Ise and southern Owari and the center of a diplomatic and intelligence network that stretched from the north to the western provinces. As the center for secret operations, Sakamoto was much more convenient than Osaka. Also, messengers could come and go to and from Sakamoto hout attracting undue attention.

On the surface, the two spheres of influence seemed to be distinctly drawn: Ieyasu from the east to the northeast, and Hideyoshi from the capital to the west. But even in Hideyoshi's stronghold of Osaka, there were innumerable people in collusion with the Tokugawa. Nor could it be said that there was no one at court who supported Ieyasu and waited for Hideyoshi to stumble.

Even among the samurai clans, there were fathers and mothers in the service of provincial lords in Osaka and Kyoto whose children served generals of the eastern army. Brothers fought on separate sides. Thus the tragic stage was set for bloody conflicts to erupt within families.

Hideyoshi knew the bitter hardships that war brought. The world had been at war from the time he was growing up in his mother's dilapidated house in Nakamura. It had been the same throughout the many years of his wanderings. With Nobunaga's appearance on the stage, society's suffering had become even more severe for a while, but it had been accompanied by a brightness and joy in the lives of the common people. People believed that Nobunaga was going to usher in an era of lasting peace. But he had been cut down halfway through his work.

Hideyoshi had vowed to overcome the setback of Nobunaga's death, and the effort he had madealmost without sleep or resthad brought him within one step of his goal. Now that final step he needed to take to achieve his ambition was near. It could be said that he had traveled nine hundred leagues of a thousand-league journey. But those last hundred leagues were the hardest. He had presumed that at some point, as a matter of course, he would have to confront the last obstacleIeyasuand either remove it from his path or destroy it. But when he approached, he discovered it was going to be more unyielding than he had imagined.

During the ten days Hideyoshi spent in Sakamoto, Ieyasu moved his army as far as Kiyosu. It was clear that Ieyasu planned to stir up war like a hornet's nest in Iga, Ise, and Kishu and advance westward, entering Kyoto and pressing in on Osaka in one blow, like the path of a typhoon.

But Ieyasu did not think the road was going to be an easy one. He was anticipating one huge engagement on his advance toward Osaka, and Hideyoshi was expecting that as well. But where would it be? The only place of sufficient size to be the site of this all-or-nothing battle between east and west was the broad Nobi Plain that bordered the Kiso River.

A man of initiative would gain the advantage by constructing fortifications and holding the high ground. While Ieyasu had already attended to that and was fully prepared, Hideyoshi could be said to have made a belated start. Even on the evening of the thirteenth day of the month, he still had not moved from Sakamoto.

Despite appearances, however, his seeming tardiness was not the result of negligence. Hideyoshi knew Ieyasu could not be compared with either Mitsuhide or Katsuie. He had to delay in order to complete his own preparations. He waited to win over Niwa Nagahide; he waited to make sure the Mori could do nothing in the western provinces; he waited to destroy the dangerous remnants of the warrior-monks in Shikoku and Kishu; finally, he waited to split the opposition of the generals in nearby Mino and Owari.

The stream of messengers was unending, and Hideyoshi received them even while he ate. He had just finished his meal and put down his chopsticks when a dispatch arrived. He reached out to take the letter box.

It was something he had been waiting for: the answer from Bito Jinemon, whom he had sent as the second messenger to Ikeda Shonyu's castle at Ogaki. Would it be good or bad news? There had been no news at all from the envoys he had sent to win over other castles. Hideyoshi opened the letter, feeling as though he was cutting open the envelope of an oracle, and read it.

"Fine," was all he said.

Late that night after he had gone to sleep, he suddenly got up as though he had just thought of something and called for the samurai on night watch.

"Is Bito's messenger returning tomorrow morning?"

"No," the guard replied, "he was pressed for time, and after a short rest he returned to Mino, taking to the road at night." Sitting on top of his bedding, Hideyoshi took up his brush and wrote a letter to Bito.

Thanks to your great efforts, Shonyu and his son have pledged their solidarity with me, and nothing could give me greater joy. But there is something I must say right away: If Nobuo and Ieyasu know that Shonyu is going to support me, they will surely become threatening in every manner conceivable. Do not react. Do nothing rash. Ikeda Shonyu and Mori Nagayoshi have always been brave and proud men with great contempt for the enemy.

As soon as he put down his pen, he sent the note to Ogaki.

Two days later, however, on the evening of the fifteenth, another message was delivered from Ogaki.

Inuyama Castle had fallen. At the same time Shonyu and his son had made their decision, they had captured the most strategic stronghold on the Kiso River and presented it as a gift of their support for Hideyoshi. It was good news.

Hideyoshi was pleased. But he was troubled as well.

On the following day Hideyoshi was in Osaka Castle. During the next few days omes of failure multiplied. After the happy victory at Inuyama, Hideyoshi learned that Shonyus son-in-law, Nagayoshi, wanting to achieve a great military exploit of his own, had planned to make a surprise attack on the Tokugawa fortifications at Mount Komaki. His army had been intercepted by the enemy near Haguro, and it was rumored that he had perished with many of his troops.

We lost this man because of his fighting spirit. Such foolishness is unpardonable!" Hideyoshi's bitter lament was aimed at himself.

Just as Hideyoshi was ready to leave Osaka on the nineteenth, another piece of bad arrived from Kishu. Hatakeyama Sadamasa had rebelled and was pressing in on Osaka from both land and sea. Nobuo and Ieyasu were most likely behind this. Even if they were not, the discontented remnants of the warrior-monks of the Honganji were always-watching for an opportunity to attack. Hideyoshi was obliged to postpone the day of his departure, in order to complete the defenses of Osaka.

It was early in the morning of the twenty-first day of the Third Month. The wrens sang their high-pitched songs in the reeds of Osaka. Cherry blossoms fell, and in the streets, the fallen blooms swirled around the long procession of armored men and horses, making it appear as though nature itself were sending them off. The townspeople who had come to watch formed an endless fence along the roadside.

The army following Hideyoshi that day numbered more than thirty thousand men. Everyone strained to catch a glimpse of Hideyoshi in their midst, but he was so small and ordinary-looking that, surrounded by his mounted generals, he easily escaped notice.

But Hideyoshi looked at the crowd and secretly smiled with assurance. Osaka is going to prosper, he thought. It seems to be flourishing already, and that's the best omen of all. The crowd wore bright colors and bold patterns, and there were no indications of a town in decline. Was it because they had faith in the new castle at its very center?

We'll win. This time we can win. That is how Hideyoshi divined the future.

That night the army camped at Hirakata, and early on the following morning, the thirty-thousand-man army continued east, following a serpentine path along the Yodo

When they arrived in Fushimi, about four hundred men came forward to meet them at the river crossing.

Whose banners are those?" Hideyoshi asked.

The generals narrowed their eyes suspiciously. Nobody could identify the huge banners of black Chinese characters on a field of red. There were also five golden pendants commander's standard with insignias of eight smaller circles around a large central one on a golden fan. Beneath those banners thirty mounted warriors, thirty spearmen, thirty gunners, twenty archers, and a corps of foot soldiers waited in full formation, their clothing rustling brilliantly in the river breeze.

Go find out who they are," Hideyoshi ordered a retainer.

The man quickly returned and said, "It's Ishida Sakichi."

Hideyoshi lightly struck his saddle.

"Sakichi? Well, well, that's who it had to be," he said in a happy voice, as though something had just occurred to him.

Approaching Hideyoshi's horse, Ishida Sakichi greeted his lord. "I made a promise to you before, and today I have prepared for your use a force financed with the money I earned from clearing the unused land in this area."

"Well, come along, Sakichi. Get in with the supply train at the rear."

More than ten thousand bushels' worth of men and horsesHideyoshi was impressed with Sakichi's ingenuity.

That day the majority of the troops passed through Kyoto and took the Omi Road. For Hideyoshi, there were memories of the reverses of his youth in every tree and blade of grass.

"There's Mount Bodai," Hideyoshi muttered. Looking up at the mountain, he remembered its lord, Takenaka Hanbei, the hermit of Mount Kurihara. When he reflected on it now, he was thankful that he had not spent a single day in idleness during that short springtime of life. The reverses of his youth and the struggles of that time had made him what he was today, and he felt that he had actually been blessed by that dark world and the muddy currents of its streets.

Hanbei, who called Hideyoshi his lord, had been a true friend whom he had been unable to forget. Even after Hanbei's death, whenever Hideyoshi encountered troubles he would think to himself, If only Hanbei were here. Yet he had allowed the man to die without any reward whatsoever. Suddenly Hideyoshi's eyelids were warm with tears of sadness, blurring his view of the peak of Mount Bodai.

And he thought of Hanbei's sister, Oyu

Just at that moment he saw the white hood of a Buddhist nun in the shadow of the pines at the side of the road. The nun's eyes momentarily met Hideyoshi's. He reined in his horse and seemed about to give out an order, but the woman beneath the pines had already vanished.

That night in camp Hideyoshi received a plate of rice cakes. The man who delivered it said that it had been brought by a nun who had not given her name.

"These are delicious," Hideyoshi said, eating a couple of the cakes even though he had already taken his evening meal. As he commented on the cakes, there were tears in his eyes.

Later on, the quick-eyed page mentioned Hideyoshi's strange mood to the generals who were attending him. All of them looked surprised and appeared as though they couldn't even guess the reason for their lord's behavior. They worried about his grief, but as soon as his head was on the pillow, Hideyoshi's high-pitched snore was the same as usual. He slept happily for just four hours. In the morning, when the sky was still dark, he got up and departed. During that day, the first and second detachments arrived at Gifu. Hideyoshi was greeted by Shonyu and his son, and soon the castle was overflowing with the huge army, both inside and out.

Torches and bonfires lit the night sky over the Nagara River. Far away, the third and fourth units could be seen flowing continually east all night long.

"It's been a long time!"

Their voices broke out in unison the moment Hideyoshi and Shonyu met.

"It really pleases me that both you and your son are united with me at this time. And I cantt even express what you've done for me with the gift of Inuyama Castle. No, even I was impressed with your speed and how alert you were to that opportunity."

Hideyoshi was outspoken in his praise of Shonyu's achievements, but said nothing about the great defeat of his son-in-law after the victory at Inuyama.

But even if Hideyoshi was saying nothing about it, Shonyu was ashamed. He seemed be deeply embarrassed that his victory at Inuyama could not atone for the defeat and loss that Nagayoshi had incurred. The letter from Hideyoshi delivered to him by Bito Jinemon had particularly warned against being drawn into a challenge from Ieyasu, but it id come too late.

Shonyu now spoke about that event. "I hardly know how to apologize for our defeat, cause of my son-in-law's foolishness."

"You're too concerned about that," Hideyoshi said, laughing. "That's not like the Ikeda Shonyu I know."

Should I blame Shonyu or just let it alone? Hideyoshi wondered when he awoke the following morning. Regardless of anything else, however, the advantage of having Inuyama Castle in his hands before the coming great battle was extraordinary. Hideyoshi praised Shonyu for his meritorious deed over and over again, and not just to console him.

On the twenty-fifth Hideyoshi rested and assembled his army, which numbered more than eighty thousand men.

Leaving Gifu the next morning, he arrived at Unuma at noon and immediately had a bridge of boats constructed across the Kiso River. The army then camped for the night. On the morning of the twenty-seventh it broke camp and headed toward Inuyama. Hideyoshi entered Inuyama Castle exactly at noon.

"Bring me a horse with strong legs," he ordered, and immediately after finishing his lunch, he galloped from the castle gate, accompanied by only a few mounted men in light armor.

"Where will you be going, my lord?" a general asked, chasing after him at full gallop.

"Just a few of you should come along," Hideyoshi replied. "If there are too many of us, we'll be spotted by the enemy."

Hurrying through the village of Haguro, where Nagayoshi had reportedly been killed, they climbed Mount Ninomiya. From there Hideyoshi could look down into the enemy's main camp at Mount Komaki.

The combined forces of Nobuo and Ieyasu were said to number about sixty-one thousand men. Hideyoshi narrowed his eyes and looked far into the distance. The sun at midday was glaringly bright. Silently put his hand over his eyes, he quietly gazed out over Mount Komaki, which was covered with the enemy forces.

On that day Ieyasu was still in Kiyosu. He had gone to Mount Komaki, given his instructions for the battle lineup, and quickly returned. It was as though a go master were moving a single stone on the board with extreme care.

On the evening of the twenty-sixth, Ieyasu received a confirmed report that Hideyoshi was in Gifu. Ieyasu, Sakakibara, Honda, and other retainers were seated in a room. They were just being told that the construction of the fortifications at Mount Komaki had been completed.

"So Hideyoshi's come?" Ieyasu muttered. As he and the other men looked around ateach other, he smiled, the skin under his eyes wrinkling like a turtle's. It was happening just as he had foreseen.

Hideyoshi had always been quick to start, and the fact that he was not displaying his usual speed this time caused Ieyasu substantial concern. Would he make his stand in Ise or would he come east to the Nobi Plain? As Hideyoshi was still at Gifu he could go in either direction. Ieyasu waited for the next report, which when it came told him that Hideyoshi had built a bridge across the Kiso River and was at Inuyama Castle.

Ieyasu received this information at dusk on the twenty-seventh day of the month, and the look on his face announced that the time had come. Preparations for the battle were completed during the night. On the twenty-eighth, Ieyasu's army advanced toward Mount Komaki to the thunder of drums and the fluttering of banners.

Nobuo had returned to Nagashima, but upon receiving a report of the situation, he immediately hurried to Mount Komaki where he joined forces with Ieyasu.

"I've heard that Hideyoshi's forces here alone number more than eighty thousand men and his entire forces combined are well beyond a hundred and fifty thousand,' Nobuo said, as if he had never thought that he was the cause of this great battle. His trembling eyes revealed what could be not concealed within his breast.

* * *

Shonyu grimaced in the smoke of the evening kitchen fires as he rode out through the castle gate.

The Ikeda warriors were apprehensive of his frame of mind just from glancing at his face. They all knew that Shonyu's bad mood was due to Nagayoshi's defeat. Owing to his misjudgment, he had burdened his allies with a severe blow at the very outset of the war even before Hideyoshi, the commander-in-chief, had arrived on the battlefield.

Ikeda Shonyu had always been confident that no one had ever pointed a finger of scorn at him, and for a man who had lived a warrior's life for forty-eight years, this disgrace must have been unexpected, at the very least.

"Yukisuke, come over here. Terumasa, you come, too. The senior retainers should come up close, too."

Sitting cross-legged in the hall of the main citadel, he had called together his sons Yukisuke and Terumasa and his senior retainers.

"I want to hear your unreserved opinions. First, take a look at this," he said, producing a map from his kimono.

As the men passed the map around, they realized what Shonyu was suggesting.

On the map a line had been drawn in red ink from Inuyama through the mountain: and over the rivers to Okazaki in Mikawa. After looking at the map, the men silently waited to see what Shonyu would say next.

"If we put Komaki and Kiyosu aside and advance our men along one road to the Tokugawa main castle at Okazaki, there's no doubt that even Ieyasu will be thrown into confusion. The only thing we need to be concerned about is how to keep our army from being seen by the enemy at Mount Komaki."

No one was quick to speak. It was an unusual plan. If a single mistake was made, it might result in a disaster that could be fatal to all of their allies.

"I'm thinking of offering this plan to Lord Hideyoshi. If it works, both Ieyasu and Nobuo will be able to do nothing as we take them captive."

Shonyu wanted to perform some meritorious deed to make up for his son-in-law's defeat. He wanted to stare back in triumph at the people who were gossiping maliciously about him. Although they understood that those were his intentions, no one was ready to criticize what he had in mind. No one was ready to say, "No, clever plans rarely invite merit. This is dangerous."

At the end of the conference the plan had won unanimous support. All the commanders begged to be put in the vanguard that would go deep into enemy territory and destroy Ieyasu in the very bosom of his own province.

A similar plan had been tried at Shizugatake by Shibata Katsuie's nephew, Genba. Nevertheless, Shonyu was ready to advocate the plan to Hideyoshi and said, "We'll go to the main camp at Gakuden tomorrow."

He spent the night sleeping on the idea. At dawn, however, a messenger came from Gakuden and told him, "As he makes the inspection rounds today, Lord Hideyoshi is likely to stop at Inuyama Castle around noon."

As Hideyoshi felt the mild breeze of the beginning of the Fourth Month wafting over him, he rode out of Gakuden and, after carefully observing Ieyasu's camp at Mount Komaki and the enemy fortifications in the area, took the road to Inuyama accompanied ten pages and close attendants.

Whenever Hideyoshi met with Shonyu, he treated him like an old friend. When they were young samurai in Kiyosu, Shonyu, Hideyoshi, and Inuchiyo had often gone out drinking together.

'By the way, how's Nagayoshi?" he asked.

It had been reported that Nagayoshi had been killed, but he had only been badly injured.

'He made a mess of things with his hotheadedness, but his recovery has been extrordinarily quick. All he can talk about is getting to the front as quickly as possible and clearing his name."

Hideyoshi turned to one of his retainers and asked, "Ichimatsu, of all the enemy fortifications we saw at Mount Komaki today, which looked to be the strongest?"

That was the sort of question he liked to ask, calling the men around him and listening happily to the frank words of the young warriors.

At such times, the crowd of young personal retainers that surrounded him never minced their words. When they became heated, Hideyoshi became heated too, and such an atmosphere made it difficult for an outsider to tell whether the arguers were lord and retainers or just friends. Once Hideyoshi became a little serious, however, everyone immediately straightened up.

Shonyu was seated next to him and finally broke in on the conversation. "I have something I would earnestly like to talk to you about, too."

Hideyoshi leaned over to listen to him and nodded. He then commanded everyone to withdraw.

The room was empty of everyone but Shonyu and Hideyoshi. They were in the hall of the main citadel, and as there was a clear field of vision, it was not necessary for him to be on his guard.

"What is it about, Shonyu?"

"You've been making the inspection tour today, and I imagine you've made some decisions. Don't you think Ieyasu's preparations at Mount Komaki are perfect?"

"Well, they're splendid. I don't think anyone but Ieyasu could have put up such fortifications and positions in such a short time."

"I've ridden out and looked around a number of times too, and I don't see how we can make an attack," Shonyu said.

"The way it's set up, we're just going to be facing each other," Hideyoshi replied.

"Ieyasu's aware that his opponent is a true opponent," Shonyu went on, "so he's acting with prudence. At the same time, our allies know that this is the first time we'll be confronting the famous Tokugawa forces in a decisive battle. So it's naturally turned into a situation like thisstaring each other down."

"It's interesting. For a number of days there hasn't even been the sound of gunfire. It's a quiet battle with no fighting."

"Well, if I may" Shonyu advanced on his knees, spread out a map, and enthusiastically explained his plan.

Hideyoshi listened just as enthusiastically, nodding a number of times. But the expression on his face did not indicate that he was going to be drawn easily into a quick agreement.

"If you'll give me your permission, I'll raise my entire clan and attack Okazaki. Once we strike the Tokugawa's home province at Okazaki, and Ieyasu hears that it's being trampled beneath our horses' hooves, it won't make any difference how well prepared his ramparts at Mount Komaki are, or how great a military genius he may be. He'll crumble from within even without our attacking him."

"I'll think about it," Hideyoshi said, avoiding a quick answer. "But you think about it one more night toonot as something of your own, but objectively. It's a clever plan and a heroic undertaking, so it's dangerous on that account alone."

Shonyu's strategy was indeed an original idea, and it was clear that even the prudent Hideyoshi was impressed, but Hideyoshi's thoughts were quite different.

By nature, Hideyoshi did not care for clever strategies or surprise attacks. Rather than military strategies, he preferred diplomacy; rather than easy, short-term victories, he preferred mastery over the total situation, even if it took a long time.

"Well, let's not be in a hurry," he said. Then he relaxed a little. "I'll make my mind up by tomorrow. Come to the main camp tomorrow morning."

Hideyoshi's personal retainers had been waiting in the corridor and now came to his side. When they got as far as the entrance of the main citadel, a strangely dressed samurai was crouched in obeisance next to the place where the horses were tethered. His head and one arm were bandaged, and the coat over his armor was of gold brocade against a white background.

"Who's that?"

The man raised his bound head a little.

"I'm ashamed to say that it's me, Nagayoshi, my lord."

"Well, Nagayoshi? I heard you were confined to your bed. How are your wounds?"

"I was determined to be up by today."

"Don't push yourself so hard. If you'll only let your body recover, you will be able to wipe away your disgrace at any time."

At the mention of the word "disgrace," Nagayoshi began to cry. Taking a letter from his coat and reverently handing it to Hideyoshi, he prostrated himself once again.

"I would be honored if you would read this, my lord."

Hideyoshi nodded, perhaps feeling compassion for the man's misery.

After finishing the day's inspection rounds of the battlefield, Hideyoshi returned to Gakuden at dusk. His camp was not on high ground like the enemy's on Mount Komaki, but Hideyoshi had used the forests, fields, and streams in the vicinity to their fullest advantage, and his army's position was surrounded by two square leagues of trenches and palisades.

As a further precaution, the compound of the village shrine was disguised to look as though it was the place where Hideyoshi was staying.

From leyasu's point of view, Hideyoshi whereabouts were unclear. He could have been at either the camp at Gakuden or Inuyama Castle. Security at the front lines was so tight that not even water could seep through, so surveillance by one side or the other was certainly impossible.

I haven't been able to take a bath since leaving Osaka. Today I want to wash the sweat off for once."

An outdoor bath was immediately prepared for Hideyoshi. After digging a hole in the earth, his attendants lined it with huge sheets of oiled paper. Filling the hole with water, they next heated a piece of scrap iron in a fire and threw it in to warm the water. Then they lined up planks around the hole and erected a curtain around the area.

Ah, the water's great." In that simple open-air bath, the master of a less-than-splendid body soaked in hot water and looked up at the stars of the evening sky. This is the greatest luxury in the world, he thought as he rubbed the dirt from his body.

Since the year before, he had been clearing away the land around Osaka and setting in motion the construction of a castle of unprecedented majesty. His own greatest human pleasures were in places like this, however, rather than in the golden rooms and jeweled towers of the castle. He felt a sudden nostalgia for his home in Nakamura, where his mother would wash his back when he was small.

It had been a long time since Hideyoshi had felt so relaxed, and it was in that state that he walked into his quarters.

Ah, you're all here already!" Hideyoshi exclaimed when he saw that the generals he had summoned that evening were waiting for him.

Take a look at this," he said, taking a map and a letter from his coat and handing it over to his generals. The letter was a petition written in blood by Nagayoshi. The map was Shonyu's.

What do you think of this plan?" Hideyoshi asked. "I want to hear everyone's frank opinions."

For a while no one said a word. Everyone appeared to be sunk in thought.

Finally one of the generals said, "I think it's an exquisite plan."

Half of the men were in favor, but the other half were opposed, saying, "A clever plan is a risky gamble."

The conference was deadlocked.

Hideyoshi simply listened with a smile. The subject was so momentous that a council resolution was not going to be settled upon easily.

"We'll have to leave it to your own wise decision, my lord."

The generals returned to their own camps at nightfall.

The truth was that Hideyoshi had already made up his mind on the return trip frorr Inuyama. He had called a conference not because he could not make up his own mind. In fact, he had invited his generals to a brief conference because he had already made his decision. Again it was a matter of psychological leadership. His generals returned to their camps with the impression that he would probably not put the plan into use.

But in his own mind Hideyoshi had already settled on action. If he did not accept Shonyu's suggestion, his and Nagayoshi's positions as warriors would become onerous. Moreover, it was certain that if their obstinate temperaments were repressed, they would somehow be manifested at a later time.

It was a dangerous situation in terms of military command. More than that, Hideyoshi feared that if Shonyu became discontented, Ieyasu would certainly try to tempt him to change sides.

Ikeda Shonyu is my subordinate now. If he imagines himself to be the butt of dishonorable rumors, his haste is not unreasonable, Hideyoshi thought.

The present situation was deadlocked, and a positive move to invite some sort of change would have to be played.

"That's it," Hideyoshi said aloud. "Rather than wait for Shonyu to come here tomorrow morning, I'll send a messenger to him tonight."

Upon receiving the urgent letter, Shonyu flew off toward Hideyoshi's camp. It was the fourth watch, and the night was still dark.

"I have decided, Shonyu."

"Good! Are you going to favor me with the command to make a surprise attack on Okazaki?"

The two men finished all the preliminaries before dawn. Shonyu joined Hideyoshi for breakfast and then returned to Inuyama.

On the following day, the battlefield outwardly appeared to be in the doldrums, but there were subtle signs of delicate movement.

Resounding in the thinly clouded afternoon sky, both enemy and ally gunfire could be heard coming from the direction of Onawate. From the Udatsu Road, sand and dust could be seen far off, at the place where two or three thousand soldiers of the westerr army were beginning to attack enemy fortifications.

"The general attack is starting!"

As they looked out into the distance, the generals felt a wild surging excitement. This was, indeed, a turning point in history. Whichever man won, the age would belong tc him.

Ieyasu knew that Hideyoshi had feared and respected Nobunaga more than anyone else. Now there was no one he feared or respected more than Ieyasu. Not a single banner in the entire camp on Mount Komaki moved that morning. It was almost as though strict orders had been given not to react to the small attacking sorties from the western army that would be testing the eastern army's resolve.

Evening arrived. A corps of the western army that had withdrawn from the fighting delivered a sheaf of propaganda handbills they had picked up along the road to Hideyoshis main camp.

When Hideyoshi read one of them, he became enraged.

hideyoshi caused the suicide of Lord Nobutaka, the son of his former lord, Nobunaga, to whom he owed so much. He has now rebelled against Lord Nobuo. He has instantly caused turmoil within the warrior class, has brought disasters to the common people, and has been the chief instigator of the present conflict, using every means to achieve his own ambitions.

The flyer went on to claim that Ieyasu had risen up with a true justification for war and that he led the army of moral duty.

An expression of ragerare for Hideyoshicontorted his face. "Which one of the enemy wrote this tract?" he demanded.

Ishikawa Kazumasa," a retainer replied.

Secretary!" Hideyoshi yelled, looking over his shoulder. "Have placards raised everywhere with the same message: The man who takes Ishikawa Kazumasa's head will receive a reward of ten thousand bushels."

Even with that command, Hideyoshi's anger did not subside, and calling for the generals who happened to be present, he gave the order for a sortie himself.

So this is how that damned Kazumasa behaves!" he fumed. "I want you to take a reserve corps and help our men in front of Kazumasa's lines. Attack him throughout the night. Attack him tomorrow morning. Attack him tomorrow night. Follow one attack with another, and don't give Kazumasa the chance to take a breath."

Finally he called out for rice and pressed for his evening meal to be brought in right away. Hideyoshi never forgot to eat. Even as he was eating, however, messengers continued to go back and forth between Gakuden and Inuyama.

Then the final messenger arrived with a report from Shonyu. Mumbling to himself, Hideyoshi leisurely drank the soup from the bottom of his bowl. That evening, the sound of musket fire could be heard far behind the main camp. The firing had been echoing here and there on the front lines since dawn and continued until the following day. Even now this was considered to be the opening action of a general attack by Hideyoshi's western army.

The first blow of the day before, however, had been a feint by Hideyoshi, while the real movement had been the preparations at Inuyama for Shonyu's surprise attack on Okazaki.

The strategy was to divert Ieyasu's attention, while Shonyu's troops took back roads and struck at Ieyasu's main castle.

Shonyu's army consisted of four corps:

First Corps: Ikeda Shonyu's six thousand men.

Second Corps: Mori Nagayoshi's three thousand men.

Third Corps: Hori Kyutaro's three thousand men.

Fourth Corps: Miyoshi Hidetsugu's eight thousand men.

The vanguard First and Second Corps naturally constituted the main strength of these forceswarriors who were ready for victory or death.

It was now the sixth day of the Fourth Month. Waiting until the dead of night, Shonyu's twenty thousand troops finally departed Inuyama in the utmost secrecy. The banners were lowered, the horses' hooves muted. Riding through the night, they met the dawn at Monoguruizaka.

The soldiers ate their provisions and had a short rest, then went on and made camp at the village of Kamijo, from which a reconnaissance party was sent out to Oteme Castle.

Earlier, the commander of the Blue Herons, Sanzo, had been sent by Shonyu to Morikawa Gonemon, the commander of castle, who had promised to betray Ieyasu. But now, just to make sure, Sanzo was sent out again.

Shonyu was now deep inside enemy territory. The army advanced, step by step, hourly approaching Ieyasu's main castle. Ieyasu, of course, was absent, as were all of his generals and soldiers, who had gone to the front lines at Mount Komaki. It was toward this vacant house, the empty cocoon that the core of the Tokugawa clan's home province had become, that Shonyu would aim his lethal blow.

The commander of Oteme Castle, who had been aligned with the Tokugawa, but tempted by Shonyu, had already accepted his pledge from Hideyoshi for a domain of fifty thousand bushels.

The castle gate was open, and its commander came out to greet the invaders himself, showing them the way. The samurai class under the old shogunate did not have a monopoly of immorality and degradation. Under Ieyasu's rule, both lord and retainer had eaten cold rice and gruel; they had fought battles; they had taken up the hoe, worked in the fields, and done piecework to survive. Finally they had overcome every hardship and had become strong enough to stand against Hideyoshi. Still, even here, there existed such samurai as Morikawa Gonemon.

"Well, General Gonemon," Shonyu said, his face aglow with happiness. "I'm grateful that you haven't gone back on your promise and have come out to greet us today. If everything turns out as planned, I'll send that proposal for fifty thousand bushels directly to Lord Hideyoshi."

"No, I already received Lord Hideyoshi's pledge last night."

With Gonemon's reply, Shonyu was once again surprised at Hideyoshi's vigilance and reliability.

The army now divided into three columns and started out for the plain of Nagakute. It passed another fortress, Iwasaki Castle, which was defended by only two hundred thirty soldiers.

"Leave it alone. A little castle like that hardly merits taking. Let's not play along the way."

Looking askance at the castle, both Shonyu and Nagayoshi rode by as though it was Not even dust in their eyes. But just as they were passing by, they were showered with gunfire from inside the castle, and one of the bullets grazed the flank of Shonyu's horse, horse reared, nearly throwing Shonyu from the saddle.

What impudence!" Raising his whip, Shonyu shouted at the soldiers of the First Corps. "Finish off that little castle now!"

The troops' first fighting action had been approved. All of their pent-up energy was released. Two commanders each led about a thousand men and charged the castle. Even a much stronger fortress would not have been able to withstand warriors with their kind of spirit, and this castle was defended by a small force of men.

In the twinkling of an eye, its stone walls were scaled, its moat was filled, fires were set, and the sun was blotted out with black smoke. At that point, the castle's commanding ral came out fighting and was killed in battle. The castle's soldiers were all killed with the exception of one man, who escaped and raced to Mount Komaki to inform Ieyasu of the emergency. During the short battle, Nagayoshi's Second Corps had put a good distance between itself and the First Corps. The men now rested and ate their provisions.

As the soldiers ate their meal, they looked up and wondered what the reason for the rising smoke might be. Very soon, however, a runner from the front lines informed them of the fall of Iwasaki Castle. The horses nipped at the grass while laughter reverberated across the plain.

Upon learning the same information, the Third Corps naturally stopped and rested both men and horses at Kanahagiwara. At the very rear, the Fourth Corps also reined in the horses and waited for the corps in front to start advancing again.

Spring was departing in the mountains and summer was near. The azure of the sky beautifully clear, deeper even than the sea. Shortly after stopping, the horses became drowsy, and the high-pitched songs of the skylark and bulbul could be heard in the barley fields and forests.

Two days before this, during the evening of the sixth day of the Fourth Month, two farmers from the village of Shinoki had crawled through the fields and run from tree to tree, avoiding the lookouts of the western army.

We have something to tell Lord Ieyasu! It's very important!" the two men yelled as they ran into the main camp at Mount Komaki.

Ii Hyobu led them to Ieyasu's headquarters. A few moments before Ieyasu had been talking with Nobuo, but after Nobuo had left, Ieyasu had taken the copy of the Analects of Confucius from the top of his armor chest and began to read silently, ignoring the sounds pf distant gunfire.

Five years younger than Hideyoshi, he was forty-two years old this year, a general in his prime. His appearance was so mild and good-naturedand he had such such soft and pale skinthat an observer might have doubted that he had been through every extremity, and had fought battles in which he had rallied his troops with nothing more than the look in his eye.

Who is it? Naomasa? Come in, come in."

Closing the Analects, Ieyasu pulled his stool around.

The two farmers reported that on that very evening, some units of Hideyoshi's army had left Inuyama and were heading in the direction of Mikawa.

"You've done well," Ieyasu said. "You'll be rewarded!"

Ieyasu's brow tightened. If Okazaki was attacked, nothing could be done. Even he hadn't thought that the enemy would leave Mount Komaki and strike out for his home province of Mikawa.

"Summon Sakai, Honda, and Ishikawa immediately," he said calmly.

He ordered the three generals to guard Mount Komaki in his absence. He would lead the bulk of his forces himself and go in pursuit of Shonyu's army.

At about that time, a country samurai had come to report to Nobuo's camp. By the time Nobuo brought the man to speak with Ieyasu, Ieyasu had already summoned a conference of his field staff.

"You come too, Lord Nobuo! I think we can say that this pursuit is going to finish with an impressive battle, and if you're not present, it's going to lack significance."

Ieyasu's forces were to be divided into two corps, and would total fifteen thousand nine hundred men. Mizuno Tadashige's four thousand troops would act as the army's vanguard.

By the night of the eighth day of the month, the main corps under Ieyasu and Nobuo had left Mount Komaki. Finally they crossed over the Shonai River. The units under Nagayoshi and Kyutaro were bivouacking only two leagues away in the village of Kamijo.

The dim white light on the water-covered rice fields and little streams showed that the dawn was near, but black shadows lay all around, and dark clouds hung low to the earth.

"Hey! There they are!"

"Get down! Lie down!"

In the rice paddies, in the clumps of bushes, in the shadows of the trees, in the hollows of the ground, the figures of the men in the pursuing army all bent down quickly. Straining their ears, they could hear the western army moving in a long black line along the single road that disappeared into a forest in the distance.

The pursuing troops divided into two corps and secretly trailed behind the tail end of the enemy, which was composed of the Fourth Corps of the western army led by Mikoshi Hidetsugu.

That was the shape of the fate of both armies on the morning of the ninth day of the month. Moreover, the commander selected by Hideyoshi for this important undertakinghis own nephew Hidetsuguwas still unaware of the situation as dawn began to break.

While Hideyoshi had appointed the steady Hori Kyutaro as the leader of the invasion of Mikawa, it was Hidetsugu whom he designated as commander-in-chief. Hidetsugu, however, was still only a sixteen-year-old boy, so Hideyoshi had selected two senior generals and ordered them to watch over the young commander.

The troops were still tired as the sun peacefully announced the dawn of the ninth day of the month. Knowing that the men must be hungry, Hidetsugu gave the order to stop. At the command to eat their provisions, the generals and soldiers sat down and ate their morning meal.

The place was Hakusan Woods, so-called because Hakusan Shrine stood at the top of a small hill there. Hidetsugu set up his stool on the hill.

Don't you have any water?" the young man asked a retainer. "There's none left in my canteen, and my throat is really dry."

Taking the canteen, he gulped down every last drop of water.

Its not good to drink too much when we're on the move. Be a little patient, my lord, a retainer reproved him.

But Hidetsugu did not even turn to look at him. The men whom Hideyoshi had sent to watch him were eyesores to the young man. He was sixteen years old, a commanding general, and naturally in a fighting mood.

Who's that running in this direction?"

Its Hotomi."

What's Hotomi doing here?" Hidetsugu narrowed his eyes and stretched up to see. The commander of the spear corps, Hotomi, approached him and knelt. He was out of breath.

Lord Hidetsugu, we have an emergency!"

Really."

Please climb a little farther up to the top of the hill."

There." Hotomi pointed out a cloud of dust. "It's still far away, but it's moving from the shelter of those mountains toward the plain."

Its not a whirlwind, is it? It's bunched up in front, with a crowd following to the rear. Its an army, that's for sure."

You have to make a decision, my lord."

Is it the enemy?"

I don't think it could be anyone else."

Wait, I wonder if it really is the enemy."

Hidetsugu was still acting with indifference. He seemed to think that it just could not be true.

But as soon as his retainers reached the top of the hill, they all shouted together.

Damn!"

I thought the enemy might have a plan to follow us. Prepare yourselves!"

Unable to wait for Hidetsugu's orders, all of them moved to take action, kicking up bits of grass and dust in their haste. The ground shook, the horses whinnied, officers and men shouted back and forth. In the moment it took to transform the rest period for a meal into readiness for battle, the commanders of the Tokugawa army had given the order for a wild fusillade of bullets and arrows directly into Hidetsugu's troops.

Fire! Loose your arrows!"

Strike into them!"

Observing the confusion of the enemy, the mounted men and spear corps suddenly charged.

Don't let them get close to His Lordship!"

The shouts surrounding Hidetsugu were now only wild voices calling to protect his life.

Here, there, from among the trees and shrubs, from everywhere along the road, came swarms of enemy soldiers. The only force that was unable to open up an escape route was one made up of Hidetsugu and his retainers.

Hidetsugu had been slightly wounded in two or three places and labored furiously with his spear.

"Are you still here, my lord?"

"Hurry! Retreat! Move back!"

When his retainers saw him, they spoke almost as if they were scolding him. Every one of them died fighting. Kinoshita Kageyu saw that Hidetsugu had lost sight of his horse and was now on foot.

"Here! Take this one! Use the whip and get out of this place without looking back!"

Giving Hidetsugu his own horse, Kageyu planted his banner in the ground and cut his way through as many of the enemy soldiers as he could before he was finally killed as well. Hidetsugu put his hand on the horse, but before he could mount it, the animal was hit by a bullet.

"Lend me your horse!"

Fleeing desperately through the midst of the fighting, Hidetsugu had spied a mounted warrior hurrying by close to him and had yelled out. Abruptly pulling the reins and turning around, the man looked down at Hidetsugu.

"What is it, my young lord?"

"Give me your horse."

"That's like asking for someone's umbrella on a rainy day, isn't it? No, I won't lend it to you, even if it is my lord's command."

"Why not?"

"Because you're retreating and I'm one of the soldiers still charging ahead."

Flatly refusing, the man dashed off. From his back, a single strand of bamboo grass whistled in the wind.

"Damn!" Hidetsugu swore as he watched him go. It seemed that in that man's eyes, he had been less than a leaf of bamboo grass along the roadside. Looking behind him, Hidetsugu could see a cloud of dust being raised by the enemy. But a group of routed soldiers from different corps carrying spears, firearms, and long swords saw Hidetsugu and shouted for him to stop.

"My lord! If you run that way, you'll meet up with yet another enemy unit!"

As they approached, they surrounded him and then pulled him away to escape toward the Kanare River.

On their way they picked up a runaway horse, and Hidetsugu was finally mounted. But when they took a short rest at a place called Hosogane, they were again attacked by the enemy and, suffering another defeat, fled in the direction of Inaba.

Thus the Fourth Corps was routed. The Third Corps, which was led by Hori Kyutaro, consisted of about three thousand men. A distance of one to one and a half leagues was maintained between the corps, and messengers had constantly kept communications open between the forces, so that if the First Corps took a rest, the advance of the other corps was naturally halted as well, one after another.

Kyutaro suddenly cupped his ear and listened. "That was gunfire, wasn't it?"

Just at that moment, one of Hidetsugu's retainers whipped his horse into the resting camp and tumbled forward.

"Our men have been completely routed. The main army has been annihilated by the Tokugawa forces, and even Lord Hidetsugu's safety is uncertain. Turn back immediately!" he wailed.

Kyutaro was taken by surprise, but his composed brow checked the impulse of the moment.

Are you in the messenger corps?"

Why are you asking me that now?"

If you're not one of the messengers, why have you come running up so upset? Did you run away?"

No! I came here to inform you of the situation. I don't know if it was cowardly or not, but this is an emergency, and I came as fast as I could to inform Lord Nagayoshi and Lord Shonyu."

With that parting remark, the man whipped his horse and disappeared, continuing on to the next corps up ahead.

Since a retainer came instead of a messenger, we can only surmise that our men at the rear have suffered a total defeat."

Suppressing the restlessness in his heart, Kyutaro remained seated on his camp stool for another moment.

Everyone come here!" Already aware of the situation, his retainers and officers gathered-around, their faces pale. "The Tokugawa forces are about to attack us. Don't waste bullets. Wait until the enemy has come to within sixty feet before firing." After instructing them in the disposition of troops, he made one concluding remark. "I will give one hundred bushels for every dead enemy warrior."

What he anticipated was not off the mark. The Tokugawa force that had struck Hidetsugus corps with an obliterating blow was now descending on his own corps fiercely. The Tokugawa commanders were themselves frightened by the unrelenting force of their troops' spirit.

Froth covered the horses' mouths, the men's faces were tense with determination, and the armor that was coming in waves was covered with blood and dust. As the Tokugawa forces pressed closer and closer into firing range, Kyutaro watched carefully and then gave the command.

Fire!"

At that instant, gunfire created a dreadful roar and a wall of smoke. With matchlock firearms, the time it took to load and fire was a period of perhaps five or six breaths, even for well-practiced men. Because of that, a system of alternating volleys was used. Thus, after each fusillade, another fell upon the enemy in rapid succession. The assaulting army fell helter-skelter before this defense. Their vast numbers could be seen on the ground between the clouds of gunpowder smoke.

They're prepared!"

Stop! Fall back!"

The Tokugawa commanders yelled orders to fall back, but their charging soldiers not be so easily stopped.

Kyutaro saw that the moment had come and shouted to the troops to counterattack. The victory was now clear, both psychologically and physically, without anyone having to wait for the actual result. The corps of warriors that had been so brilliantly victorious now received themselves what they had given to Hidetsugu only moments before.

Throughout Hideyoshi's army Hori Kyutaro's spear corps was famed for its great efficiency. The corpses of men who had been pierced by the points of those spears now deterred the horses carrying the commanders who were trying to flee. The Tokugawa generals escaped, swinging their long swords behind them as they fled the pursuing points of the spears.


The Sins of the Father | Taiko | Master Stroke