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Master Stroke

The plain of Nagakute was covered with a thin veil of gunpowder smoke and filled with the stink of corpses and blood. With the morning sun, it smoldered with all the colors of the rainbow.

Peace had already returned there, but the soldiers who had brought carnage with them were now heading for Yazako, like the clouds of an evening shower. Flight simply provoked more flight, endless flight and destruction.

Kyutaro did not lose his head as he pursued the Tokugawa troops. "The rear guard should not follow us. Take the roundabout way toward Inokoishi and pursue them along two roads."

One unit broke away and followed a different road, while Kyutaro led six hundred men against the retreating enemy. The dead and wounded abandoned along the road by the Tokugawa could not have numbered less than five hundred men, but Kyutaro's soldiers also grew fewer and fewer as they continued.

Although the main corps had advanced far ahead, two men still breathing among the corpses now crossed spears, then abandoned them as too cumbersome and drew their swords. Grappling, then breaking loose, they fell down, stood up again, and fought interminably in their own private battle. Finally one took the other's head. Yelling almost insanely, the victor chased after his companions in the main corps, disappeared once again into the miasma of smoke and blood, and, struck by a stray bullet, fell dead before he catch up with his comrades.

Kyutaro was yelling himself hoarse. "It's useless to chase after them for too long. Genza! Momoemon! Stop the troops! Tell them to fall back!"

Several of his retainers rode forward and, with difficulty, restrained their troops.

Fall back!"

"Draw up beneath the commander's standard!"

Hori Kyutaro dismounted and walked from the road onto the promontory of a bluff. From where he stood, his field of vision was unobstructed. He stared steadily out into the distance.

"Ah, he has come so quickly," he muttered.

The expression on his face showed that he had become completely sobered. Turning to his attendants, he invited them to take a look.

In the west, in an elevated area just opposite the morning sun, something was glittering on Mount Fujigane.

Was it not Ieyasu's emblemthe commander's standard with the golden fan? Kyutaro raised his voice in grief. "It's a sad thing to say, but we have no strategy for dealing with such a great foe. Our work here is finished."

Collecting his troops, Kyutaro quickly began to retreat. But at that point, four messengers from the First and Second Corps came together from the direction of Nagakute looking for him.

"The order is for you to turn back and join forces with the vanguard. This comes directly from Lord Shonyu."

Kyutaro flatly refused. "Absolutely not. We're retreating."

The messengers could hardly believe their ears. "The battle is starting now! Please turn back and join our lords' forces immediately!" they repeated, raising their voices.

Kyutaro raised his voice as well. "If I said I'm retreating, I'm retreating! We have to make sure that Lord Hidetsugu is safe. Besides, more than half of this section of the army has sustained wounds, and if our men come up against a fresh enemy, it will be a disaster. I, for one, am not going to fight a battle that I know I'll lose. You can tell that to Lore Shonyu and to Lord Nagayoshi as well!"

With those parting words, he rode off at a gallop.

Hori Kyutaro's corps ran into Hidetsugu and his surviving troops in the vicinity of Inaba. Then, setting fire to the farmhouses along the way, they defended themselves time and again from the pursuing Tokugawa troops and finally returned to Hideyoshi's main camp at Gakuden before sunset.

The messengers who had come seeking Kyutaro's aid were outraged.

"What kind of cowardice is it to run away to the main camp without even looking back at your allies' desperate situation?"

"He's clearly lost his nerve."

"Today Hori Kyutaro showed us his true character. We'll despise him if we return alive."

They now turned toward their own isolated corps, led by Shonyu, and whipped their horses' flanks in fits of rage.

Indeed, the two corps under the command of Shonyu and Nagayoshi were now only fodder for Ieyasu. The two men were as different as their abilities. The battle between Hideyoshi and Ieyasu at this time was like a grand championship match in sumo, and each man understood his opponent well. Both Hideyoshi and Ieyasu had realized early on that the situation would reach the present pass, and each knew through his own circumspection that his enemy was not a man who could be brought down by a cheap trick orshowmanship. But pity the brave and ferocious soldier who acts with a warrior's pride alone. Burning with nothing but his own will, he knows neither the enemy nor his own capacities.

Having had his camp stool set up on Mount Rokubo, Shonyu inspected the more than two hundred enemy heads that had been taken at Iwasaki Castle.

It was morning, just about the first half of the Hour of the Dragon. Shonyu still had not the slightest idea of the disaster that had occurred at his rear. Looking only at the smoking ruins of the enemy castle in front of him, he was drunk on the small pleasure that the warrior falls into so easily.

After the inspection of the heads and the recording of the meritorious deeds of the troops, breakfast was eaten. As the soldiers chewed their food, they occasionally looked toward the northwest. Suddenly something in that direction caught Shonyu's attention as well.

Tango, what's that in the sky over there?" Shonyu asked.

The generals around Shonyu all turned to the northwest.

Could it be an insurrection?" one suggested.

But as they continued to eat what was left of their rations, they suddenly heard some confused shouting at the foot of the hill.

As hey were wondering what it was about, a messenger from Nagayoshi ran up to them. "We've been taken off guard! They've come up behind us!" the man shouted as he prostrated himself in front of Shonyu's camp stool.

The generals felt as if a chill wind had blown clear through their armor.

What do you mean, they've come up behind us?" Shonyu asked.

An enemy force followed Lord Hidetsugu's rear guard."

The rear guard?"

They made a sudden attack from both flanks."

Shonyu stood up abruptly, just as a second messenger arrived from Nagayoshi.

There's no time to lose, my lord. Lord Hidetsugu's rear guard has been completely routed."

There was a sudden stir of motion on the hill, and following that, the noise of short tempered commands and the sounds of soldiers flowing down the road to the bottom of the hill.

From the shady side of Mount Fujigane, the commander's standard of the golden fan shone brilliantly above the Tokugawa army. There was something almost bewitching about the symbol, and it sent a shiver through the soul of every warrior of the western army on the plain.

There is a great psychological difference between the spirit of an advancing army and of an army that has turned back. Nagayoshi, who was now encouraging his men from horseback, looked like a man who was anticipating his own death. His armor was made of black leather with dark blue threading, and his coat was gold brocade on a white background. Deer horns adorned his helmet, which he wore thrown back on his shoulders. His head was still wrapped down to his cheeks in the white bandage that covered his wounds.

The Second Corps had been resting at Oushigahara, but as soon as he heard about the Tokugawa forces' pursuit, Nagayoshi roused his men and glared at the golden fan on Mount Fujigane.

"This man is a worthy opponent," he said. "The failure at Haguro that I wash away today won't be just for me. I'll show them that I'll wipe away my father-in-law's disgrace as well."

Today he intended to vindicate his honor. Nagayoshi was a handsome man, and the death attire that he wore today seemed all too desolate for him.

"Did you deliver the report to the vanguard?"

The messenger, who had returned, brought his horse up next to his lord's, adjusted himself to his lord's pace, and made his report.

Nagayoshi, looking straight ahead, held the reins loosely as he listened. "What about the men at Mount Rokubo?" he asked.

"The men were quickly put in order, and they're now coming along behind us."

"Well then, tell Lord Kyutaro of the Third Corps that we have combined our forces and are advancing to confront Ieyasu at Mount Fujigane, so he should pull back in this direction to support us."

Just as the man galloped off, two mounted messengers hurried up with the same instructions for Kyutaro from Shonyu.

But, as has already been related, Kyutaro refused that request and the messengers returned in outrage. By the time Nagayoshi received their reports, his army had already marched through a swampy area between the mountains and was starting to climb to the top of Gifugadake in search of a good position. Before them waved Ieyasu's standard of the golden fan.

The lay of the land was complicated. In the distance, an approach to one section of the open plain of Higashi Kasugai wound and bent its way along, now scissored between the mountains, now embracing smaller plains. The Mikawa road that connected with Okazaki could be seen in the distant south.

But mountains covered more than half of the field of vision. There were no steep precipices or high crags but only undulating waves of hills. As spring departed, the trees were covered with faintly red buds.

Messengers were exchanged in rapid succession, but the thoughts of Nagayoshi and Shonyu were communicated without words. Shonyu's six thousand troops were immediately divided into two units. About four thousand men headed toward the north, and then made their formation to the southeast on high ground. The commander's standard and banners clearly announced that the generals here were Shonyu's eldest son, Yukisuke, and his second son, Terumasa.

That was the right wing. The left wing was made up of Nagayoshi's three thousand soldiers on Gifugadake. Leading the remaining two thousand soldiers, Shonyu stayed with them as a reserve corps. Shonyu set up his commander's standard at the very center of this crane-wing formation.

"I wonder how Ieyasu is going to attack," he said.

Looking up at the sun, the men could see that it was still only the second half of the Hour of the Dragon. Had the hours been long or short? It was not a day for measuring time in the ordinary way. Their throats were dry, but they did not want water.

The uncanny silence made their flesh crawl. A bird cried wildly as it flew across the valley. But that was all. The birds had all flown to some other more peaceful mountain leaving the place to men.

Ieyasu appeared to be too stoop-shouldered. After passing forty he had become somewhat fleshy, and even when he put on his armor, his back was rounded, his shoulers plump; his head seemed to be almost stuffed into his shoulders by his heavy decorated helmet. His right hand, which held the baton of command, and his left were both on his knees. Seated on the edge of his camp stool with his thighs apart, he slouched forward in a way that affected his dignity.

And yes, that was his ordinary posture, even when seated before a guest or walking around. He was not one to stick out his chest. His senior retainers had once advised him to correct his posture, and Ieyasu had nodded vaguely in assent. But as he was talking with his retainers one night, he told them a little about his past.

"I was brought up in poverty. More than that, I was a hostage in another clan from the time I was six, and everyone I saw around me had more rights than I did. So I naturally got into the habit of not going around with my chest stuck out, even when I was with other children. Another reason for my bad posture is that when I studied in the cold room at the Rinzai Temple, I read my books at a desk so low I had to hold on to them like a hunchback. I became almost obsessed by the thought that someday I would be released as a hostage from the Imagawa clan and my body would become my own again. I couldn't play like a child."

It seemed that Ieyasu could never forget the time he had spent with the Imagawa clan. There was no one among his attendant retainers who had not heard the stories of his days as a hostage.

"But you know," he continued, "according to what I was told by Sessai, priests have more respect for what a man's shoulders say about him than what his face does. It seems that he could tell if a man had reached enlightenment just by looking at his shoulders. So, when I looked to see what the abbot's shoulders were like, I found that they were always as round and soft as a halo. If a man wanted to put the entire universe in his breast, he couldnt do it with his chest stuck out. So I started to think that my own posture was not so bad."

Having set up his headquarters in Fujigane, Ieyasu looked around calmly.

"Is that Gifugadake? The men there must be Nagayoshi's. Well, I suppose Shonyu's forces will very soon be getting themselves ready at some mountain or another. One of you scouts hurry and take a look."

The scouts quickly returned and made their reports to Ieyasu. Of course, the information about the enemy positions came in piecemeal. As Ieyasu listened to the reports, he formulated his strategy.

By that time it was already the Hour of the Serpent. Nearly two hours had passed since the enemy's banners had appeared on the mountain before them.

But Ieyasu was composed. "Shiroza. Hanjuro. Come over here." Still seated, he looked around with a serene expression.

"Yes, my lord?" The two samurai approached him, their armor clattering.

Ieyasu asked for the two men's opinions as he compared the map in front of him with the immediate scene.

"When I think about it, it seems that Shonyu's forces at Kobehazama must consist of the real veterans. Depending on how they move, we may be at a real disadvantage here at Fujigane."

One of the men pointed to the peaks in the southeast and answered, "If you're resolved to a decisive battle of close fighting, I think that the foothills over there could be much better places to plant your banners."

"Good! Let's move."

His decision was that quick. The change in the army's position was made immediately. From the foothills, the elevated land held by the enemy was close enough to touch.

Separated only by a marsh and the low area of Karasuhazama, the soldiers could see their enemies' faces and even hear their voices carried on the wind.

Ieyasu ordered the placement of each unit, while he himself had his camp stool set up in a place with an unobstructed view.

"Well, I see that Ii is leading the vanguard today," Ieyasu said.

"The Red Guard has come out to the front!"

"They look good, but I wonder how well they'll fight."

Ii Hyobu was twenty-three years old. Everyone knew that the young man was highly regarded by Ieyasu, and until that morning he had been among the retainers at Ieyasu's side. For his part, Ieyasu viewed Ii as a man that could be put to good use, and he had given him the command of three thousand men and the responsibility for leading the vanguard. That position held the possibility of yielding both the greatest fame and the bitterest hardship.

"Show your spirit just as you please today," Ieyasu counseled.

Ii was so young, however, that Ieyasu took the precaution of attaching two of his experienced retainers to his unit. He added, "Listen to the words of these veterans."

The brothers Yukisuke and Terumasa looked out at the Red Guard from their elevated position at Tanojiri, to the south.

"Strike at that ostentatious Red Corps that's making such a show!" Yukisuke ordered.

With that, the brothers sent a unit of two or three hundred men out from the side of a ravine and a attack corps of one thousand men from the front lines, first opening up with their firearms. At the same time, the foothills erupted in thunderous gunfire, and white smoke spread out like a cloud. As the smoke turned into a light haze and drifted toward the marsh, Ii's red-clad warriors quickly ran toward the low ground. A group of black-armored warriors and foot soldiers ran out to meet them. The distance between the two groups was quickly breached, and the two spear corps engaged in hand-to-hand fighting.

The real heroics of a warrior's battle were usually seen in the fight of spear against spear. More than that, the outcome of battle was often decided by the actions of the spearmen.

It was here that the Ii corps killed several hundred of the enemy. The Red Guard, however, did not escape without casualties, and a good number of Iis retainers met their deaths.

Ikeda Shonyu had been thinking about the plan of battle for some time. He saw that the troops under his sons were engaged in hand-to-hand fighting with the Red Guards, and that the battle was gradually becoming intensified. "Now's your chance!" he yelled behind him.

A corps of about two hundred men who were ready to win or die had readied their spears beforehand and were waiting for the moment. As soon as they were given the command to advance, they were to rush out into the direction of Nagakute. It was in Shonyu's character to choose unusual battle tactics even at a time like this. The unit of attack troops received the command, circled around Nagakute, and aimed at the troops that remained after the Tokugawa's left wing had pushed forward. The plan was to swiftly attack the enemy's center and, when the enemy's battle array was in confusion, to capture the commander-in-chief, Tokugawa Ieyasu.

The plan, however, did not succeed. Discovered by the Tokugawa before reaching their objective, they received a heavy fusillade of musket fire and were brought to a standstill in a swampy area where it was difficult to move. Unable to advance or retreat, they sustained pitiful losses.

Nagayoshi looked out at the battle situation from Gifugadake and clicked his tongue. Ah, they were sent too early," he cried out. "It's not like my father-in-law to be so impatient." Today it was the young man who, in every situation, was far more composed than his father-in-law. In fact, Nagayoshi was resolved in his heart that that day was to be the day of his death. With no other thoughts or distractions, he simply looked straight ahead at the commander's stool under the golden fan in the foothills in front of him.

If only I can kill Ieyasu, he thought. Ieyasu, for his part, kept his eye on Gifugadake more than on any other area, aware that the spirit in Nagayoshi's ranks was high. When a scout informed him about the way Nagayoshi was dressed that day, he issued a warning to the men around him.

"Nagayoshi appears to be dressed in his death outfit today, and there's nothing more intimidating than an enemy determined to die. Don't make light of him and be taken in by the god of death."

Thus, the confrontation was not going to be easily initiated by either side. Nagayoshi watched his opponent's movements, feeling in his heart that if the battle at Tanojiri intensified, Ieyasu would not be able to look on simply as a spectator. Surely he would detach a division of soldiers and send them as reinforcements. And with that opportunity Nagayoshi would strike. But Ieyasu was not going to be taken in easily.

"Nagayoshi is fiercer than most men. If he's this quiet, it's certain that he's up to something."

But the situation at Tanojiri betrayed Nagayoshi's expectations, and the signs of the Ikeda brothers' defeat were coming thick and fast. Finally he resolved that he could wait no longer. But just at that moment, the commander's standard with the golden fan that had remained invisible until now was suddenly raised in the foothills where Ieyasu waited.

Half of Ieyasu's army dashed toward Tanojiri, while the remaining men raised their voices and attacked Gifugadake.

Nagayoshi's troops charged out to meet them, and with the collision of the two armies, the lowland area of Karasuhazama was turned into a whirlpool of blood.

The gunfire was unceasing. It was a desperate battle in a place hemmed in by hills, and the whinnying of horses and the clanging of long swords and spears echoed back and forth. The voices of the warriors calling out their names to their opponents shook heaven and earth.

Soon there was not a single position unengaged throughout the narrow confines of the area, not a single commander or soldier who was not fighting for his life. Just as some troops appeared to be victorious, they crumbled; and just as others seemed to be defeated, they struck through. No one knew who had won, and for a while it was a battle in the dark.

Some men were struck down and killed, while others were victorious and called out their own names. Of those who received wounds, some were called cowards, while others were praised as brave men. If an observer looked carefully, however, he could see that each individual was hurrying along toward eternity, creating his own unique fate.

Shame was the one thing that would not let Nagayoshi think about returning alive to the everyday world. It was the reason he had put on his death robes today.

"I will meet Ieyasu!" Nagayoshi vowed.

As the battle became more and more chaotic, Nagayoshi called together forty or fifty warriors and started out for the commander's standard of the golden fan.

"I'm going to meet Ieyasu. Now!" and he started to whip his horse toward the opposite hill.

"Stop! You're not going anywhere!" a Tokugawa soldier shouted.

"Get Nagayoshi!"

"He's the man with the white hood, riding at a gallop!"

The waves of armored men that tried to stop him ran up to his side and were trampled or, approaching him, were wrapped in sprays of blood.

But then, one bullet from the driving rain of musket fire, shot from a gun that was aimed at the warrior in the white brocade coat, hit him directly between the eyes.

The white hood around Nagayoshi's head suddenly turned red. Falling back on his horse, he had one last glimpse of the sky in the Fourth Month, and in that valley, the heroic young man of twenty-six years fell to the ground, still holding the reins. Hyakudan, Nagayoshi's favorite horse, reared up and whinnied in grief.

A shout like a great sob rose up from his men as they quickly rushed to his side. Carrying his corpse on their shoulders, they withdrew to the top of Gifugadake. Men from the Tokugawa forces ran after them, fighting for the symbol of their deed, shoutin "Take his head!"

The warriors who had lost their leader were close to tears. Wheeling around with frightening expressions, they turned their spears back on their pursuers. Somehow they were able to hide Nagayoshi's body. But the news that Nagayoshi had been struck down blew like a chill wind across the entire battlefield. Along with the other tides of war that had been turning against their position, yet another disaster had befallen Shonyu's forces.

It was as though boiling water had been poured onto a hill of ants: everywhere warriors were fleeing in confusion.

They're hardly worth calling allies!" Shonyu shouted as he climbed toward higher ground and, in contrast to the peaceful surroundings, sputtered in rage at the few soldiers he encountered. "I'm right here! Don't make a disgraceful retreat! Have you forgotten what you learned every day? Go back! Go back and fight!"

But the group of black-hooded men around him did not stop their own flight in the general collapse. On the contrary, only a pitiful young page of fifteen or sixteen approached him falteringly.

Leading up a stray horse, he offered it to his lord.

In the battle at the bottom of the hill, Shonyu's horse had been shot and he had fallen to the ground. He had been surrounded by the enemy, but had desperately cut open a path and climbed up.

I don't need a horse anymore. Set up my camp stool here."

The page set up the camp stool behind him, and Shonyu sat down.

Forty-eight years end here," he muttered to himself. Still looking at the page, he talked on. "You're Shirai Tango's son, aren't you? I imagine your father and mother are waiting. Run as quickly as you can to Inuyama. Look, the bullets are coming! Get out of here fast! Now!"

Having chased the teary-eyed page away, he was alone and felt free from care. Calmly he took his last look at the world.

Very soon he could hear a noise like the fighting of wild animals, and the trees shook in the crags directly beneath him. It appeared that some of his black-hooded warriors still remained and were brandishing their weapons in mortal combat.

Shonyu felt numb. It was no longer a matter of victory or defeat. The sorrow of parting from the world made him reflect on the faraway past, tinged with the scent of his mothers milk.

Suddenly the shrubs directly in front of him began to shake.

Who is it!" Shonyu's eyes shone with rage. "Is it the enemy?" he called out. His voice was so calm that the approaching Tokugawa warrior unconsciously stepped back in shock.

Shonyu called out again, pressing the man further. "Are you one of the enemy? If you are, take my head and you'll achieve a great deed. The man who is speaking now is Ikeda Shonyu.

Tle warrior crouching down in the thick undergrowth raised his head and looked at Shonyu sitting there. He shuddered for a moment and then spoke in an arrogant voice as he stood up.

Well, I've encountered a good one here. I am Nagai Denpachiro of the Tokugawa clan. Prepare yourself!" he shouted, and thrust out his spear.

In response to his shout, quick resistance from the sword of the famous fierce general have been expected, but Denpachiro's spear slid deeply into his opponent's side without any trouble at all. Rather than Shonyu, whose side had been pierced through, it was Denpachiro who tumbled forward from the momentum of his excessive force.

Shonyu fell over, the spearpoint protruding from his back.

"Take my head!" he yelled again.

He did not have his long sword in his hand even now. On his own he had invited his death, on his own he was offering his head. Denpachiro had been in an arrogant trance, but when he was suddenly aware of the feelings of this enemy general and the way he was meeting his final moments, he was struck with a violent emotion that made him want to weep.

"Ah!" he cried out, but then was so beside himself with joy at his unexpected great achievement that he forgot what to do next.

Just then he heard the rustling sounds of his allies fighting to be the first to climb up from beneath the crags.

"I'm Ando Hikobei! Prepare yourself."

"My name is Uemura Denemon!"

"I'm Hachiya Shichibei of the Tokugawa clan!"

Each announced his name as they competed to be the one to take Shonyu's head.

By whose sword had the head been taken? Their bloody hands grabbed the topknot and swung it around.

"I took the head of Ikeda Shonyu!" yelled Nagai Denpachiro.

"No, I took it!" cried Ando Hikobei.

"Shonyu's head is mine!" Uemura Denemon shouted.

A storm of blood, a storm of violent voices, a storm of selfish desire for fame. Four men, five mena growing cluster of warriors, with the single head at its center, set off the direction of Ieyasu's campstool.

"Shonyu has been killed!"

That shout became a wave that went from the peaks to the marsh and caused the Tokugawa forces all over the battlefield to bellow with joy.

The men of the Ikeda forces who had managed to escape did not shout at all. In a moment, those men had lost both heaven and earth, and like dry leaves they now searched for a place to go where their lives might be spared.

"Don't let one of them return alive!"

"Chase after them! Run them down!"

The victors, driven by an insatiable bloodlust, slaughtered the Ikeda wherever they found them.

For men who had already forgotten about their own lives, violently taking other lives very likely felt like nothing more than playing with fallen flowers. Shonyu had been finished off, Nagayoshi had been killed in battle, and now the remaining Ikeda formations at Tanojiri were scattered by the Tokugawa.

One after another, the generals brought the stories of their exploits into the camp that spread out under Ieyasu's golden fan.

"There are so few of them."

Ieyasu was troubled.

This great general rarely displayed his emotions, but he worried about the warriors who had gone out in pursuit of the defeated enemy. Many had not returned, even though the conch had been blown several times. Perhaps they had been carried away with their victory.

Ieyasu repeated himself two or three times.

This is not a matter of adding victory on top of victory," he said. "It's not good to want to win still more after you've already won."

He did not mention Hideyoshi's name, but no doubt he had intuited that that natural-born strategist had already pointed a finger in this direction in reaction to the great defeat suffered by his army.

A long pursuit is dangerous. Has Shiroza gone?"

Yes. He hurried off some time ago with your orders."

Hearing Ii's answer, Ieyasu gave out another order. "You go too, Ii. Reprimand those have gotten carried away and order them to abandon the chase."

When the pursuing Tokugawa forces reached the Yada River, they found Naito Shirozaemon's squad lined up along the bank, each man holding out the shaft of his spear horizontally.



The order has come from our lord's main camp not to make a long pursuit!"

With those words from the men along the bank, the pursuers were halted.

Ii galloped up and nearly made himself hoarse, yelling at the men as he rode back and forth.

Our lord has said that those men who become so proud of their victory that they get carried away and go after the enemy will be asking for a court-martial when they return to camp. Go back! Go on back!"

Finally their blind enthusiasm ebbed away, and the men all withdrew from the bank of the river.

It was just about the second half of the Hour of the Horse, and the sun was in the middle of the sky. It was the Fourth Month, and the shape of the clouds indicated that summer was near. Every soldier's face was smeared with earth, blood, and sweat, and appeared to be on fire.

At the Hour of the Ram Ieyasu went down from the encampment on Fujigane, crossed the Kanare River, and formally inspected the heads at the foot of Mount Gondoji.

The fight had lasted half a day, and all across the battlefield, the dead were counted. Hideyoshi's side had lost more than two thousand five hundred men, while the casualties the Ieyasu's and Nobuo's armies amounted to five hundred ninety dead and several hundred wounded.

This great victory is nothing we should be too proud of," a general cautioned. "The Ikeda were only a branch of Hideyoshi's army, but we took our entire force from Mount Komaki and used them here. At the same time, it would be fatal to our allies if we were suffer a collapse here for some reason. I think the best measure would be for us to withdraw to Obata Castle as quickly as possible."

Another general immediately countered, saying, "No, no. Once victory is in your grasp, you should take the initiative with daring. That's what war is all about. It's certain that when Hideyoshi hears about his great defeat, it's going to provoke him to anger. He'll probably assemble his forces and rush here. Shouldn't we wait for him, prepare ourselves as warriors, and then take Lord Monkey's head?"

In response to those two arguments Ieyasu said again, "We shouldn't try to add victory to victory." And then, "Our men are all tired. Hideyoshi is most likely raising the dust on his way here even now, but we shouldn't meet him today. It's too soon. Let's retire to Obata."

With that quick decision, they passed south of Hakusan Woods and entered Obata Castle while the sun was still high.

After bringing the entire army inside Obata Castle and closing the castle gates, Ieyasu savored the day's great victory for the first time. As he looked back on it, he felt satisfied that the half-day battle had been fought faultlessly. The soldiers' and officers' satisfaction was in such exploits as taking the first head or having the first spear out to the enemy, but the commander-in-chief's secret satisfaction lay in only one thing: the feeling that his own clear-sightedness had hit the mark.

But it takes a master to know one. Ieyasu's only concern now was Hideyoshi's subsequent movements. He strove to be flexible as he pondered this problem, and rested for a while in the main citadel at Obata, relaxing both body and mind.

After Shonyu and his son had departed on the morning of the ninth, Hideyoshi summoned Hosokawa Tadaoki to his camp at Gakuden and gave him, as well as several other generals, the command for an immediate attack on Mount Komaki. After they attacked he climbed the observation tower and watched the progress of the battle. Masuda Jinemon waited at his side, looking out into the distance.

"You know, as hot-blooded as Lord Tadaoki is, won't it be a problem if he penetrates too deeply into the enemy?"

Worrying about how close the Hosokawa forces had come to the enemy ramparts, Jinemon looked at the expression on Hideyoshi's brow.

"It'll be all right. Tadaoki may be young, but Takayama Ukon is a man of good sense. If he's there with him, it will be fine."

Hideyoshi's mind was far away. How had Shonyu fared? All he could think about was the good news that he hoped would come from that quarter.

At about noon, a number of mounted men rode up, having withdrawn from Nagakute. With wretched looks on their faces, they related the tragic news: the main army of Hidetsugu had been completely crushed, and it was unclear whether Hidetsugu was alive or dead.

"What! Hidetsugu?" Hideyoshi was plainly surprised. He was not someone who could look unperturbed at hearing something shocking. "Well, what an oversight!" He said this not so much to criticize the shortcomings of Hidetsugu and Shonyu as to admit his own failure and praise the insight of his enemy, Ieyasu.

"Jinemon," he called, "blow the conch shell for the men to assemble."

Hideyoshi immediately sent out yellow-hooded messengers to each of his divisions with emergency orders, and within an hour, twenty thousand soldiers had departed from Gakuden and hurried toward Nagakute.

That rapid shift did not go unnoticed at the Tokugawa headquarters on Mount Komaki. Ieyasu was already gone, and a small number of men had been left for its defense.

It appears that Hideyoshi himself is at the head of his army."

When Sakai Tadatsugu, one of the generals left in charge of Mount Komaki, heard that news, he clapped his hands and said, "This is turning out just as we expected! While Hideyoshi is gone, we can burn his headquarters at Gakuden and the fortress at Kurose. Now is the time to make the kill. Everyone follow me for a grand attack!"

But Ishikawa Kazumasa, another of the generals left in charge, opposed him directly.

Why are you being so hasty, Lord Tadatsugu? Hideyoshi is almost divinely inspired in his military strategies. Do you think a man like that would leave an incapable general in charge of defending his headquarters, no matter how much of a hurry he was in to depart?

Any human being may not be up to his usual capacities when he's acting in haste. Hideyoshi had the conch blown to assemble, and he departed in such a hurry one may suppose even he was confused at the news of the defeat at Nagakute. We shouldn't miss the chance now to set fire to Lord Monkey's tail."

That's superficial thinking!" Ishikawa Kazumasa laughed out loud and resisted Tadatsugu all the more. "It would be Hideyoshi's style to leave behind a considerable military forrce to take advantage of the situation that would exist if we left our own fortificacations. And it would be ridiculous for a small force like ours to sally out now."

Disgusted with all the confusion, Honda Heihachiro stood up indignantly. "Is this a discussion? People who like discussions are just prattlers. Personally, I can't just sit here idly. P'ardon me for leaving first."

Honda was both a poor talker and a man of strong character. Both Tadatsugu and Kazumnasa had been insisting on the validity of their own arguments and engendering a controversy. They now looked in shock at Honda's indignant departure.

Honda, where are you going?" they asked hurriedly.

Honda turned around and spoke as though he had come to some deep conclusion. "I have been my lord's retainer ever since I was an infant. Considering the situation he's in, I can do nothing but go to his side."

Wait!" Kazumasa appeared to think that Honda was simply being hotheaded, and raised his hand to restrain him. "We were commanded by our lord to defend Mount Komaki in his absence, but we were not commanded to do just as we pleased. Calm down a little."

Tadatsugu also tried to calm him down. "Honda, will it achieve anything if you go out alone right now, of all times? The defense of Mount Komaki is more important."

Honda's mouth curled up in a thin smile, as though he pitied their narrow thinking, but he spoke politely, as the two other men were superior to him in both rank and age.

I'm not going with the other generals. Each of you can do as he pleases. But Hideyoshi is leading a fresh army toward Lord Ieyasu, and as for me, I can't just stand here without doing anything. Think about it. Our lord's forces must be exhausted from fighting last night and this morning, and if the twenty thousand men Hideyoshi is leading join the rest of the enemy in an attack from both the front and the rear, how do you suppose Lord Ieyasu will get away safely? The way I see it is, even if I am wrong in rushing off to Nagakute alone, if my lord is killed in battle, I am resolved to die with him. That should not trouble you."

At those words, all murmuring stopped. Honda led out his own small force of three hundred men and dashed away from Mount Komaki. Infected with the man's spirit, Kazumasa also collected his two hundred men and joined the determined party.

Their joint forces numbered fewer than six hundred men, but Honda's spirit enveloped them from the time they left Mount Komaki. What was an army of twenty thousand men, after all? And who was this Lord Monkey, anyway?

The foot soldiers were lightly armored, the banners were rolled up, and as the horses were whipped, the dust from their little force flew up like a tornado hurrying toward the east.

As they came out to the southern bank of the Ryusenji River, they found Hideyoshi's army moving along the northern bank, troop after troop.

"Well, there they are!"

"The commander's standard with the golden gourds."

"Hideyoshi must be surrounded by his retainers."

Honda and his men had ridden up without stopping, and were looking over at the opposite bank, noisily pointing and holding their hands over their eyes. All of them shook with excitement.

It was such a short distance that if Honda's men had yelled out, the enemy's shouts would have reached right back to them. The faces of the enemy soldiers were visible, and the footsteps of twenty thousand men mixed with the clatter of innumerable horses' hooves crossed the river and reverberated against the chests of the men who were watching.

"Kazumasa!" Honda yelled behind him.

"What is it?"

"Do you see that on the opposite bank?"

"Yes, it's an immense army. Their line looks longer than the river itself."

"That's just like Hideyoshi," Honda laughed. "It's his skill to take an army of that size and then move it as though the men were his own hands and feet. He may be the enemy, but you have to give him credit."

"I've been looking at them for a while. Do you suppose Hideyoshi is over there, where you see the commander's standard with the golden gourds?"

"No, no. I'm sure he's hidden somewhere in the middle of another group of men. He's not going to ride out in the open where he'd be the target for someone's gun."

"The enemy soldiers are moving quickly, but they're all looking over here with suspicion."

"What we must do here is delay Hideyoshi on the road along the Ryusenji River, even if just for a few moments."

"Should we attack?"

"No, the enemy has twenty thousand men, and our own forces only number five hundred, so if we attacked them it would take only an instant for the surface of the river to be dyed red with our blood. I'm resolved to die, but not pointlessly."

"Ah, so you want to give our lord's army in Nagakute enough time to be fully prepared and waiting for Hideyoshi."

"That's right," Honda nodded, striking his horse's saddle. "To buy time for our alliesin Nagakute, we should do our best to get a firm grip on Hideyoshi's feet and slow down his attackeven if just a littlewith our own deaths. Act with that in mind, Tadatsugu."

"Good. I understand."

Kazumasa and Honda turned their horses' heads to the side.

"Divide your gunners into three groups. As they hurry along the road, each group can alternately kneel and fire at the enemy on the opposite bank."

The enemy moved quickly along the opposite bank, seeming almost to keep pace with the quick-running current. Honda's men had to do everything with the same rhythm but in double-time and constantly on the runwhether it was an attack or the reorganization of their units.

Because they were close to the water, the musket fire echoed far more loudly than it ordinarily would have, and the gunpowder smoke spread over the river like a vast curtain. As one unit leaped in front and fired, the next unit readied its muskets. Then that unit jumped forward, taking the place of the first unit, and immediately fired toward the opposite bank.

A number of Hideyoshi's troops were seen to tumble over in rapid succession. Very quickly, the line of marching men started to waver.

"Who in the world can that be, challenging us with such a tiny force?"

Hideyoshi was surprised. With a look of shock on his face, he unconsciously stopped his horse.

The generals riding around him and the men close by all shaded their eyes with their hands and looked at the opposite bank, but no one could give a quick answer to Hideyoshi's question.

"To act so bravely toward an army of this size with a little force of less than a thousand men, that must be a daring commander! Does anybody recognize him?"

Hideyoshi asked the question repeatedly, looking around at the men in front and behind him.

Then someone at the head of the line said, "I know who that is."

The man who spoke was Inaba Ittetsu, the commander of Sone Castle in Mino. In spite of his venerable age, he had joined this great battle for Hideyoshi's sake and had been at his side as a guide from the very beginning of the campaign.

"Ah, Ittetsu. Do you recognize the enemy general on the other side of the river?"

"Well, from the antlers on his helmet and the white braid on his armor, I'm sure it nust be Ieyasu's right-hand man, Honda Heihachiro. I remember him clearly from the battle at Ane River years ago."

When Hideyoshi heard this, he looked as though he were about to shed tears. "Ah, what a brave man! With one small force he strikes at twenty thousand. If that is Honda, he must be a stalwart fellow. How touching that he would try to help Ieyasu escape by nomentarily obstructing us here and by dying himself," he muttered. And then, "He's to be sympathized with. Our men are not to shoot a single arrow or bullet in his direction, no matter how much of an attack the man might make. If there is some karmic relation between us, I'll make him one of my own retainers one day. He's a man to be loved. Don't shoot; just let him go."

During that time, of course, the three groups of gunners on the other bank busilycontinued to load their muskets and shoot relentlessly. One or two bullets even came close to Hideyoshi. Just then, the armored warrior upon whom Hideyoshi had beenstraining his eyesHonda, the man wearing the helmet adorned with deer antlerswent down to the water's edge, dismounted, and washed his horse's muzzle with water from the river.

Separated from him by the width of the river, Hideyoshi looked at the man, while Honda gazed steadily at the group of generalsone of whom was clearly Hideyoshiwho had stopped their horses.

Hideyoshi's gunners' corps began to open fire in response, but Hideyoshi once again reproved his entire army. "Don't shoot! Just hurry on! Hurry on ahead!" With that, he urged his horse on with all the more speed.

When Honda observed that action on the other bank, he yelled out, "Don't let them go!" and doubled his speed. Moving ahead on the road, he once again made a fierce musket attack on Hideyoshi's troops, but Hideyoshi would not take up the challenge and soon took up a position on a hill close to the plain of Nagakute.

As soon as they arrived at their destination, Hideyoshi gave orders to three of his generals to take the same number of light cavalry units and ride out quickly. "Do what you can with the Tokugawa forces that are withdrawing from Nagakute to Obata."

He made his headquarters on the hill, while his twenty thousand fresh troops spread out beneath the red evening sun, demonstrating their intention to take revenge upon Ieyasu.

Hideyoshi assigned two men as chiefs of a scouting unit, and they went off secretly toward Obata Castle. After that, Hideyoshi quickly worked out the military operations for his entire army. But before the orders could be sent out, an urgent report arrived:

"Ieyasu is no longer on the battlefield."

"That can't be!" the generals all said together. As Hideyoshi sat silently, the three commanders he had previously sent out toward Nagakute came hurrying back.

"Ieyasu and his main force have already withdrawn to Obata. We encountered a few scattered groups of the enemy that were late in retreating toward the castle, but the others seem to have been about an hour ahead of us," they reported.

Of the three hundred Tokugawa soldiers they had killed, not one had been a general of note.

"We were too late." Hideyoshi had no way to dispel his anger, and it clearly burned in the color of his face.

The scouts' reports were all the same: the castle at Obata had closed its gates and appeared to be quiet, proof that Ieyasu had already withdrawn into the castle and was calmly savoring today's military victory as he rested.

In the midst of his complicated emotions, Hideyoshi unconsciously clapped his hands and congratulated Ieyasu. "That's Ieyasu for you! He has remarkable speed. He retreats into a castle and closes up the gates without any boasting. This is one bird we're not going to catch with either birdlime or a net. But you watch, I'll make Ieyasu behave a littie more properly after a few years and have him bow in front of me."

It was already twilight, and a night attack on a castle was considered something to avoid. Moreover, the army had come from Gakuden without rest, so further actiontonight was temporarily postponed. The orders were changed. The men were to eat their provisions. Clouds of campfire smoke climbed into the evening sky. The scouts who had gone from Obata quickly returned. Ieyasu had been sleeping but got up to hear the report. Apprised of the situation, he announced that everyone would immediately be returning to Mount Komaki. His generals argued emphatically for a midnight attack on Hideyoshi, but Ieyasu just laughed and left for Mount Komaki by a circuitous route.

The Hooded Warrior | Taiko | Taiko