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The Idiot Lord

"Excuse me!" A voice called a second time.

Otowaka, off duty that day, was in his regiment's dormitory, taking a nap. He woke up, raised his head, and looked around.

"Who is it?"

"It's me," a voice said from beyond the hedge, where the tendrils of bindweed entwined themselves around the leaves and thorns of Chinese orange. From the balcony, Otowaka could see someone on the other side of the dust-covered hedge. He went out on the veranda.

"Who is it? If you have some business, come in by the front gate."

"It's locked."

Otowaka stretched to get a good look and exclaimed, "Why, it's Yaemon's son Monkey, isn't it?"

"Yes."

"Why didn't you say who you were, instead of groaning out there like a ghost?"

"Well, the front gate wasn't open, and when I peeped through the back, you were asleep," he said deferentially. "Then you got a little restless, and I thought I'd try calling you again."

"You needn't be so reserved. I guess my wife locked the gate when she went out shopping. I'll open it for you."

After Hiyoshi had washed his feet and come into the house, Otowaka stared at him for a long time before saying, "What have you been up to? It's been two years since we met on the road. There's been no news of whether you were alive or dead, and your mother's been terribly worried. Did you let her know you were all right?"

"Not yet."

"Aren't you going home?"

"I went home just for a bit before coming here."

"And you still didn't show your face to your mother?"

"Actually, I went secretly to the house last night, but after one look at my mother and sister, I turned around and came here."

"You're a strange one. It's the house where you were born, isn't it? Why didn't you let them know you were safe, and put them at ease?"

"Well, I wanted to see them very much, but when I left home, I swore I wouldnt return until I'd made something of myself. The way I am now, I couldn't face stepfather."

Otowaka took a second look at him. Hiyoshi's white cotton smock had been turned gray by dust, rain, and dew. His greasy hair and his thin, sunburned cheeks somehow completed the picture of exhaustion. He was the image of a man who had failed to reach his goal.

"What do you do to eat?"

"I sell needles."

"You're not working for anyone?"

"I worked at two or three places, not very high-class samurai households, but"

"As usual, you soon got tired of them, I suppose. How old are you now?"

"Seventeen."

"There's nothing a man can do if he's born stupid, but don't overdo it in acting the simpleton. There's a limit. Fools have the patience to be treated like fools, but that doesnt hold for you and your mistakes. Look, it's natural that your mother is grieving and your stepfather's embarrassed. Monkey! What in the world are you going to do now?"

Although Otowaka scolded Hiyoshi for his lack of perseverance, he also felt sorry for him. He had been a close friend of Yaemon's, and he was well aware that Chikuami had treated his stepchildren harshly. He prayed that Hiyoshi might make something of himself for his dead father's sake.

Otowaka's wife came back just then, and she spoke up for Hiyoshi: "He's Onaka's son, not yours, isn't he? Who do you think you're scolding? You're just wasting your breath. I feel sorry for the boy." She fetched a watermelon that had been cooling in the well, cut it up, and served it to Hiyoshi.

"He's still just seventeen? Why, he doesn't know anything," she said. "Think back to when you were his age. Even though you're past forty, you're still a foot soldier. T makes you pretty ordinary, doesn't it?"

"Be quiet," Otowaka said, looking hurt. "Since I don't think young men should have to spend their lives like me, I have something to say to them. After the coming-of-age ceremony, they're considered adults, but when they're seventeen, they have to be men already. It's a bit irreverent, maybe, but look at our master, Lord Nobunaga. How old do you think he is?" He started to tell her but then quickly changed the subject, perhaps for fear of getting into an argument with his wife. "Oh, yes, we'll probably go hunting with His Lordship again tomorrow. Then, on the way back, we'll practice fording the Shonai River on horseback and by swimming. Have my things readya cord for my armor, and my straw sandals."

Hiyoshi, who had his head down, listening, raised it and said, "Excuse me, sir."

"Being formal again?"

"I don't mean to be. Does Lord Nobunaga go hunting and swimming that much?"

"It's not my place to say it, but he's an awfully mischievous lad."

"He's wild, is he?"

"You'd think so, but then there are times he can be very well mannered."

"He's got a bad reputation from one end of the country to the other."

"Is that so? Well, I guess he's not very popular with his enemies."

Hiyoshi suddenly stood up and said, "I'm really sorry to have bothered you on your day off."

"You don't have to leave so soon, do you? Why don't you stay the night, at least? Did I hurt your feelings?"

"No, not at all."

"I won't stop you if you insist, but why don't you go and show yourself to your mother?"

"Yes, I'll do that. I'll go to Nakamura tonight."

"That would be good." Otowaka went out as far as the gate and saw Hiyoshi off, but he felt that something was not quite right.

Hiyoshi did not go home that night. Where did he sleep? Perhaps he camped out at a roadside shrine or under the eaves of a temple. He had received money from Matsushita Kahei, but in Nakamura the night before, after peeking through the hedge to see that his mother was all right, he had tossed it into the yard. So he did not have any money left, but because the summer night was short, he did not have to wait long for the dawn.

Early the next morning he left the village of Kasugai and went in the direction of Biwajima, walking at a leisurely pace, eating as he walked. He had some rice balls wrapped in lotus leaves tied to his belt. But how did he eat without money?

Food can be found anywhere. That's because it's heaven's gift to mankind. This was an article of faith with Hiyoshi. The birds and the beasts receive heaven's bounty. But man has been ordered to work for the world, and those who don't work can't eat. Human beings who live only to eat are a disgrace. If they work, they will receive heaven's gift naturally. In other words, Hiyoshi put work before hunger.

Whenever Hiyoshi wanted to work, he would stop at a building site and offer his services to the carpenters or laborers; if he saw a person pulling a heavy cart, he would push from behind; if he saw a dirty doorway, he would ask if he could borrow a broom to weep it. Even if he wasn't asked, he would work or make work, and because he did it conscientiously, he was always repaid by people with a bowl of food or a little traveling money. He was not ashamed of his way of life, because he did not humble himself like an animal. He worked for the world, and believed that heaven would give him what he needed.

That morning in Kasugai he had come across a blacksmith's shop that had opened early. The wife had children to take care of, so after helping to clean up the smithy, putting the two cows out to pasture, and going around to the well to fill the water jars, he was rewarded with breakfast and rice balls for the afternoon.

It looks like it's going to be hot again today, he thought, looking up at the morning sky. His meal sustained his life, transient as dew, for another day, but his thoughts were not attuned to the thoughts of others. With the weather like this, Lord Nobunaga was sure to come to the river today. And Otowaka had said he'd be there too.

In the distance he could see the Shonai River. Wet with morning dew, he got up from the grass and went to the riverbank, gazing idly at the beauty of the water.

Every year from spring to fall, Lord Nobunaga does not miss a chance to practice fording the river. But where, I wonder? I should've asked Otowaka. The stones on the riverbank were drying in the sun, which shone brightly on the grass and berries and on Hiyoshi's dirty clothes. Anyway I'll wait here, Hiyoshi said to himself and sat down near a clump of bushes. Lord Nobunaga Lord Nobunaga. The mischievous master of the Oda. What kind of man could he be? Like a pasted-on talisman, the man's name would not leave his head, whether he was sleeping or awake.

Hiyoshi wanted to meet him. This was what brought him to the riverbank early that morning. Although Nobunaga had succeeded Oda Nobuhide, would he be able to survive very long, spoiled and violent as he was? Common opinion had it that he was stupid as well as short-tempered.

For years Hiyoshi had believed the gossip, and it made him sad that his home province should be so poor and be ruled by so worthless a lord. But after seeing the true circumstances in other provinces, he began to think differently. No, one didn't really know. A war wasn't won on the day of the battle. Each and every province had its own character, and in each one there was both appearance and reality. Even a province that seemed weak on the surface could have hidden strengths. Conversely, provinces that looked stronglike Mino and Surugamight be rotten from within.

Surrounded by large, strong provinces, the domains of the Oda and the Tokugawa appeared small and poor. Within these small provinces, however, were concealec strengths that the larger provinces did not have, without which they would not have been able to survive.

If Nobunaga was the fool he was said to be, how had he managed to hold on to Nagoya Castle? Nobunaga was now nineteen. It was three years since his father had died. In those three years, this young, violent, empty-headed general, with neither talent nor intelligence, had not only held on to his inheritance, but had gained a firm grip on this province. How was he able to do this? Some claimed it wasn't the work of Nobunaga himself but of his able retainers, in whose charge a worried father had entrusted his son: Hirate Nakatsukasa, Hayashi Sado, Aoyama Yosaemon, and Naito Katsusuke. The collective power of these men was the pillar of the Oda, and the young lord was nothing more than a figurehead. As long as the previous lord's retainers survived, everything would be fine, but when one or two died and the pillar crumbled, the downfall of the Oda was going to be plain for everyone to see. Among those most eager to see this happen were, of course, Saito Dosan of Mino and Imagawa Yoshimoto of Suruga. No one dissented from this view.

"Hiyaa!"

At the sound of a war cry, Hiyoshi looked around over the grass. Yellow dust rose near the upper reaches of the river. Standing up, he strained his ears. I can't see anything, but there's something going on, he thought excitedly. Is it a battle? He raced through the grass, and after running about a hundred yards, he saw what was happening. The Oda troops he had been waiting for since morning had come to the river and were already carrying out their maneuvers.

Whether euphemistically referred to as "river fishing" or "hawking" or "military swimming drills," for the warlords the sole object of these exercises was military preparedness. Disregard military preparations, and your life would be over very quickly.

Hidden in the tall grass, Hiyoshi let out a sigh. On the other bank of the river, a makeshift camp lay between the embankment and the grassy plain above. Curtains, bearing the Oda family crest, hung between several small rest huts and fluttered in the wind. There were soldiers, but Nobunaga was nowhere to be seen. There was a similar camp on this bank as well. Horses were whinnying and stamping, and the excited voices of the warriors roared from both banks loudly enough to raise waves on the water. A lone riderless horse splashed around crazily in the middle of the river and finally leaped up to the dry land downstream.

They pass this off as swimming practice! Hiyoshi thought, astonished. Popular opinion was, for the most part, wrong. Nobunaga was said to be weak-minded and violent, but if you asked for proof, it seemed that no one had really bothered to check whether or not it was true. Everyone saw Nobunaga leaving the castle during the spring and fall, to go fishing or swimming, and that was all. Seeing it with his own eyes, Hiyoshi finally realized that these outings had nothing to do with a frivolous lord taking a swim in the summer heat. This was no-holds-barred military training.

At first the samurai rode in small groups, clad in the lightweight clothes they might wear on an outing. But at the sound of the conch, and with the drums beating, they formed into regiments that clashed in the middle of the river. The waters roiled, and in the pure white spray it was samurai against samurai, one contingent of foot soldiers against another. The bamboo spears became a whirlwind, but their bearers beat rather than thrust at each other. The spears that missed their mark skimmed the water and threw up rainbows. Seven or eight mounted generals showed their colors, brandishing their spears.

"Daisuke! I'm here!" shouted a young mounted samurai, who stood out from the ranks. He wore armor over a white hemp tunic and carried a gorgeous vermilion sword. He galloped up next to the horse of Ichikawa Daisuke, the archery and spear master, and without warning struck the man's side with his bamboo spear.

"What insolence!" Yelling out and wresting the spear from his attacker, Daisuke adjsted his grip and thrust back at his opponent's chest. The young warrior was a graceful man. His face flushed, he grabbed Daisuke's spear with one hand and held his vermilion sword in the other and glowered. Unable to resist Daisuke's strength, however, he fell backward off his horse into the river.

"That's Nobunaga!" Hiyoshi yelled out involuntarily. Were there retainers who could do such a horrible thing to their master? Wasn't the servant being even more violent than the master was said to be? Hiyoshi thought so, but from that distance he could not be absolutely sure that the man was Nobunaga. Forgetting himself, Hiyoshi stood on tiptoe. The mock battle at the ford continued apace. If Nobunaga had been pushed off his horse, his retainers should be rushing over to help him, but no one paid the slightest attention.

Before long, a warrior splashed out onto the opposite bank downstream from the battle. It was the same man who had been knocked off his horse, and he looked a lot like Nobunaga. Raising himself up like a water-soaked rat, he immediately stamped his foot shouting, "I will never be beaten!"

Daisuke caught sight of him and pointed. "The general of the eastern army is over there! Surround him and take him alive!"

Kicking up a spray, foot soldiers made straight for Nobunaga. Using a bamboo spear Nobunaga landed a blow on one soldier's helmet and knocked him down; then he hurled the spear at the next man.

"Don't let them get close!"

A group of his men arrived to screen him from the opposing forces. Nobunaga ran up the embankment, yelling in a sharp voice, "Give me a bow!" Two pages ran from behind the curtain of his hut carrying short bows and, almost pitching over, flew to when he was. "Don't let them cross the river!" While giving orders to his troops, he notched an arrow, let it go with a snap, and rapidly notched another. They were practice arrows without heads, but, shot square in the forehead, several "enemy" soldiers were felled. He shot off so many arrows that it was hard to believe that he alone was shooting. As he fired, his bowstring broke twice. Each time, Nobunaga changed weapons with no delay at all and went on shooting. While he was desperately holding his ground, the upstream defense gave in. The western army overran the embankment, surrounded Nobunaga's headquarters, and let out shouts of victory.

"Lost!" Nobunaga tossed his bow aside, already laughing. He turned, smiling through, gritted teeth, and faced the enemy and their victory song. Daisuke and the master of strategy, Hirata Sammi, dismounted and ran toward Nobunaga.

"My lord is not injured?"

"Nothing could happen to me in the water."

Nobunaga was mortified. He said to Daisuke, "Tomorrow I'll win. Tomorrow you're going to have a hard time of it." He raised his brow slightly as he spoke.

Sammi said, "After we get back to the castle, would you care for me to offer a critique of your strategy today?"

Nobunaga was hardly listening. He had already thrown off his armor and plunged into the river to cool off.

* * *

Nobunaga's handsome features and fair complexion suggested that his forebears had been exceptionally goodlooking men and women. Turning to face someone, he would shoot them through with the unwavering light in his eyes. When he eventually became aware of this trait, he would wrap the light in laughter, leaving the onlooker baffled. And not only he, but his twelve brothers and seven sisters also, either in their refinement of manners or in their fine good looks, had the sophistication of aristocrats.

"You may find this annoying, and you may ask, 'What? Again?' But, like a prayer that you must say day and nighteven while you eatyou must remember your ancestry. The founder of the Oda clan was a priest of the Tsurugi Shrine. In the distant past, one of your ancestors was a member of the Taira clan, which claimed descent from Emperor Kammu. So remember that the blood of the Imperial House has been transmitted to you. Old man that I am, I cannot say more."

Nobunaga heard this constantly from Hirate Nakatsukasa, one of the four men his faher had appointed as his guardians when he had moved from his birthplace, Furuwatari Castle, to Nagoya. Nakatsukasa was a remarkably loyal retainer, but to Nobunaga he was awkward and tiresome. He would murmur, "Ah, I understand, old man. I understand," and turn away. He would not listen to him, but the old man went on, as if repeating a litany:

"Remember your honored father. To defend Owari, he fought on his northern borders in the morning and faced invasion from the east at night. The days in one month when he could take off his armor and spend time with his children were few and far between. Despite the continuous warfare, he had a deep sense of loyalty to the Throne, and he sent me to the capital to repair the mud walls of the Imperial Palace and gave four housand kan to the Court. Besides that, he spared no effort in constructing the Grand Shrine at Ise. Your father was such a man. And among your ancestors"

"Old man! That's enough! I don't know how many times I've heard this!" When Nobunaga was displeased, his beautiful earlobes became bright red, but from the time he was a child, that was the extent to which he could show his displeasure. Nakatsukasa understood his disposition well. He also knew it was more efficacious to appeal to his feelings than to try to reason with him. When his ward got restless, he would quickly change tactics.

"Shall we get a bridle?"

"Horseback riding?"

"If you like."

"You ride too, old man."

Riding was his favorite pastime. He was not content with staying on the riding grounds. He would ride three or four leagues from the castle and then gallop back.

At thirteen, Nobunaga had taken part in his first battle, and at fifteen he had lost his father. As he grew older he became more and more arrogant. On the day of his father's funeral Nobunaga was improperly dressed for the formality of the occasion.

As the guests watched in disbelief, Nobunaga walked up to the altar, grabbed a handful of powdered incense, and threw it at his father's mortuary tablet. Then, to everybody's surprise, he returned to the castle.

"What a disgrace! Is this really the heir of the province?"

"A hopelessly empty-headed lord."

"You wouldn't have thought it would come to this."

This was the view of those who had only a superficial understanding of things. But those who considered the situation more deeply shed tears of gloom for the Oda clan.

"His younger brother, Kanjuro, is well mannered, and has acted respectfully from beginning to end," one mourner pointed out. They regretted that the estate had not gone to im. But a monk who sat at the back of the room said softly, "No, no this is a man with a future. He's frightening." This comment was later reported to the senior retainers, but not one of them took it seriously. Shortly before he died, at forty-six, Nobuhide had arranged Nobunaga's engagement to the daughter of Saito Dosan of Mino, through the good offices of Nakatsukasa. For a number of years Mino and Owari had been enemie so the marriage was a political one. Such arrangements were almost the rule in a countr at war.

Dosan had no trouble seeing through this strategy, and yet he had given his favorite daughter to the heir of the Oda clan, whose reputation for being a fool was well know from the neighboring provinces to the capital. He gave his consent to the match, with his eyes firmly fixed on Owari.

Nobunaga's foolishness, violence, and disgraceful conduct appeared to grow worse. But that was exactly what he wanted others to see. In the Fourth Month of the twenty-second year of Temmon, Nobunaga turned nineteen years old.

Anxious to meet his son-in-law, Saito Dosan proposed holding their first meeting a the Shotokuji Temple in Tonda, on the border between their two provinces. Tonda was an estate of the Ikko Buddhist sect. The temple stood a little apart from the village's seven hundred or so houses.

Leading a large body of men, Nobunaga left Nagoya Castle, crossed the Kiso and Hida rivers, and pushed on to Tonda. About five hundred of his men carried longbows or firearms; another four hundred had crimson spears eighteen feet long; and they were followed by three hundred foot soldiers. They marched in solemn silence. A corps of horsemen in the middle of the procession surrounded Nobunaga. They were prepared for an emergency.

It was early summer. The ears of the barley were a pale yellow. A gentle breeze from the Hida River refreshed the line of men. It was a peaceful noontime, and shrubs drooped over the roughly woven fences. The houses of Tonda were well built and many had rice granaries.

"There they are." Two low-ranking samurai of the Saito clan had been posted at the edge of the village as lookouts. They sped off to report. In the row of zelkova trees that cut through the village, the sparrows twittered peacefully. The samurai knelt in front of a small commoner's hut and said in a low voice, "The procession has been sighted. It will soon be passing by here."

Incongruously, the dark, sooty walls of the dirt-floored hut concealed men with gaudy swords, dressed in formal kimono.

"Good. You two go hide in the thicket in back."

The two samurai were personal attendants to Lord Saito Dosan of Mino, who was leaning against the windowsill in a small room, keeping an eye on what was going on.

There were many stories about Nobunaga. What is he really like? Dosan wondered What kind of man is he? Before meeting him formally, I'd like to get a look at him. This was typical of Dosan's way of thinking, and it was why he was here, spying from a roadside hut.

"The men from Owari are here, my lord." So informed, Dosan grunted, and gave his attention to the road outside the window. Locking the entrance, his retainers pressed their faces against the crevices and holes in the wooden doors. They maintained strict silence.

The voices of the little birds in the row of trees fell quiet, too. Except for the sound of their wings as they suddenly took flight, the silence was pervasive. Even the soft breeze made no noise. The feet of the orderly troop of soldiers approached steadily. The musketeers, carrying their polished firearms, walked ten abreast, in detachments of forty men; the red shafts of the spears looked like a forest as they made their way past the men from Mino. With bated breath, Dosan studied the gait of the soldiers and the arrangement of their ranks. Following the wave of marching feet came the sound of horses' hooves and loud voices. Dosan could not let his eyes stray from the scene.

In the midst of the horsemen was a remarkably fine horse with a glittering muzzle. Atop the rich saddle, inlaid with mother-of-pearl, sat Nobunaga, holding reins of purple interwoven with white. He was chatting gaily with his retainers.

"What's this?" were the words that slipped slowly from Dosan's mouth. He looked astounded. Nobunaga's appearance dazzled the eye. He had heard that the lord of the Oda went about in bizarre clothing, but this far exceeded anything he had heard.

Nobunaga sat swaying in the saddle of the thoroughbred horse, his hair arranged in a general's topknot tied with pale green braid. He was dressed in a brightly patterned cotton coat with one sleeve removed. Both his long and short swords were inlaid with abalone shell and bound in sacred rice straw, twisted into the shape of a good-luck charm. Hanging from his belt were seven or eight items: a tinder bag, a small gourd, a medicine case, a string-bound folding fan, a small carving of a horse, and several jewels. Beneath his half-length skirt of tiger and leopard skin was a garment made of shiny gold brocade.

Nobunaga turned in the saddle and called out, "Daisuke, is this the place? Is this Tonda?" He shouted so loudly that Dosan heard him clearly from his hiding place.

Daisuke, who was acting as guard, rode up to his master. "Yes, and the Shotokuji temple, where you're to meet your esteemed father-in-law, is right over there. We should be on our best behavior from now on."

"The temple belongs to the Ikko sect, doesn't it? Hm, it's quiet, isn't it. No war here, I suppose." Nobunaga gazed up through tihe zelkova trees, perhaps catching sight of silhouettes of hawks in the blue sky overhead. The swords at his waist clanked softly against each other and against the objects hanging from his belt.

After Nobunaga had gone by, Dosan's retainers fought back the desire to burst out laughing. Their faces showed how much they had struggled not to laugh at the ludicrousness of the display.

"Is that it?" Dosan asked. Then, "Is that the last of the procession?"

"Yes, all of it."

"Did you get a good look at him?"

"From a distance."

"Well, his appearance doesn't run counter to the rumors. His features are good and his physique is passable, but there's something missing up here," Dosan said, raising his finger to his head, smiling with apparent satisfaction.

Several retainers came hurriedly through the back door. "Please hurry, my lord. It's one thing if Nobunaga becomes suspicious, but what if his retainers do, too? Shouldn't we be at the temple first?"

They spilled out of the back door of the house and took a concealed path to the temple. Just as the vanguard of the Owari samurai stopped at the front gate of the Shotokuji, they hurried in through the back gate, acting as though nothing had happened. They changed quickly and went out to the main entrance. The temple gate was filled with people. As all of the men from Mino had been summoned for the formalities, the main temple, the great hall, and the guest's reception room were deserted, left to the wind.

Kasuga Tango, one of Dosan's senior retainers, turned to his seated master and quietly asked how he proposed to conduct the meeting.

Dosan shook his head. "There's no reason for me to go." To his way of thinking, Nobunaga was only his son-in-law.

It would have been fine if that was all there was to it. But Nobunaga was the lord of aprovince, just as Dosan was, and his retainers had assumed that the etiquette would be that of men meeting on an equal footing. Although Dosan was also Nobunaga's father-in-law, wouldn't it be more appropriate to follow the form of a first meeting between two provincial lords? That is what Tango thought, and he asked about it tentatively. Dosai replied that it would not be necessary.

"Well then, how would it be if I went out alone?"

"No. That's not necessary either. It will be sufficient if Hotta Doku greets him."

"If my lord thinks so."

"You will attend the meeting. See that all seven hundred men in the corridor that leads up to the room are lined up in a dignified way."

"They should be there already."

"Keep the real veterans concealed, and have them clear their throats as my son-in-law passes by. Have the archers and musketeers stand in the garden. As for the others, tell them they should look overbearing."

"That goes without saying. There'll never be a better opportunity to show the strength of Mino and to crush the spirits of your son-in-law and his men. We're all ready."

Dosan returned to the problem of the front entrance. "This son-in-law of mine is more of a fool than I thought. Any sort of meal and any sort of etiquette will do. I'll be waiting in the reception room." Dosan looked as though he wanted to yawn, and stretched as he got up to leave.

Tango thought he might have to improve on his orders. He went into the corridor and inspected the guards, then called aside a subordinate and whispered something in his ear.

Nobunaga was coming up the steps of the main entrance. There were more than a hundred Saito retainers, from clan elders down to young samurai still on probation. They knelt shoulder-to-shoulder, and prostrated themselves in greeting.

Nobunaga suddenly stopped dead in his tracks and said, "How about a room to rest in?" He spoke without a trace of reserve, and got a very hushed reaction.

"Yes, my lord!"

All the bowed heads looked up simultaneously. Hotta Doku inched forward and prostrated himself at the feet of the lord of Owari. "This way, please. Please rest here awhile, my lord." He stooped low as he led the way to the right of the great entrance and along a raised corridor. Nobunaga looked to the right, then to the left. "I say, this is a nice temple. Why, the wisteria is in full bloom. What a pleasant smell!" Fanning himself, he entered the room with his attendants. After resting for about an hour, Nobunaga rose from behind a folding screen, saying, "Ho, there! I need someone to show me the way. I suppose my father-in-law wants an interview, does he not? Where is the lord of Mino?"

His hair had been redone, turned down and bound. In place of his half-sleeved garment of leopard and tiger skins, he wore a split skirt and tunic of white silk embroidered with his family crest in gold thread, under a formal sleeveless coat with a paulownia pattern on a deep purple background. His short sword was tucked into his sash and he carried his long sword in his hand. He had been transformed into the very picture of an elegant young courtier.

The eyes of the retainers from Mino opened wide, and even his own retainers, who were used to seeing him in outlandish outfits, were surprised. Nobunaga strode without hesitation along the corridor on his own. He looked in both directions and said in a loud voice, "I'm not comfortable being accompanied like this. I prefer to meet with my father-in-law alone!"

Doku winked at Kasuga Tango, who had just joined them. Positioned on either side of the main hall, they introduced themselves solemnly: "I am Hotta Doku, senior retainer to Lord Dosan of Saito."

"I am also a senior retainer. My name is Kasuga Tango. You have had a long journey, and I am happy to see that you have arrived without mishap. It is felicitous, indeed, that the day of this meeting should be so splendid."

While the two men were still greeting him, Nobunaga walked briskly down the polished floor of the corridor, whose walls were lined with men. "Ah, this is well carved" he said, looking at the transom. He ignored the warriors as if they were mere grass by the roadside. Arriving at the reception room, he asked Doku and Tango, "Is it in here?"

"Yes, my lord," Doku answered, still breathless from having chased Nobunaga.

He nodded casually and stepped from the corridor into the room proper. Completely at ease, he sat down, leaning back against the pillar at the edge of the room. He looked up, as if to admire the paintings on the fretwork ceiling. His eyes were cool and his features composed. Even courtiers probably had less well-ordered features. But someone paying attention only to his looks would miss the defiance in his eyes. In one corner of the room, there was a slight rustling as a man got to his feet. Dosan stepped out from the shadows. He sat down in a dignified manner, in a position superior to Nobunaga's.

Nobunaga pretended not to notice. Or rather, he feigned indifference while toying with his fan. Dosan glanced to the side. There was no rule governing how a father-in-law should speak to his son-in-law. He held his own and was silent. The atmosphere was tense. Needles seemed to prick at Dosan's brow. Doku, finding the strain unbearable, drew near Nobunaga's side and bowed his head all the way to the tatami.

"The gentleman seated over there is Lord Saito Dosan. Would you care to greet him, my lord?"

Nobunaga said, "Is that so?" and moved his back from the pillar and straightened up. He bowed once and said, "I am Oda Nobunaga. It's a pleasure to meet you."

With Nobunaga's change of posture and salutation, Dosan's manner softened as well. "I've long hoped that we could meet. I'm happy that I could realize this long-cherished desire today."

"This is something that gladdens my heart, as well. My father-in-law is getting old, but he is making his way through life in good health."

"What are you talking about, getting old? I've just reached sixty this year, but feel at all old. You're still a chick just out of the egg! Ha, ha! The prime of manhood begins at sixty."

"I'm happy to have a father-in-law I can rely on."

"In any case, this is a blessed day. I hope the next time we meet, you will show me the face of a grandchild."

"With pleasure."

"My son-in-law is openhearted! Tango!"

"Yes, my lord."

"Let's eat." Dosan gave a second order with his eyes.

"Certainly." Tango was not sure he had read the meaning in his master's eyes correctly, but the sour look on his face had cleared in the course of the meeting. He took it to mean a changed attitude: the old man would now try to please his son-in-law. Instead of the plain fare he had ordered originally, more elaborate dishes were called for.

Dosan looked satisfied with Tango's arrangements. He let out a sigh of relief. Fathre- in-law and son-in-law were exchanging toasts. The conversation took an amiable turn.

"Ah, I remember!" Nobunaga blurted out suddenly, as though something had just come to mind. "Lord Dosanfather-in-lawon my way here today, I came across a really odd fellow."

"How might that be?"

"Well, he was a funny old man who looked just like you, and he was peeking out at my procession from the broken window of a commoner's house. Though this is my first meeting with my father-in-law, when I first saw you, well you looked exactiy like him. Now isn't that strange?" As he laughed, Nobunaga hid his mouth behind his half-opened fan.

Dosan was quiet, as though he had drunk bitter soup. Both Hotta Doku and Tango were sweating profusely. When the meal was over, Nobunaga said, "Well, Ive overstayed my welcome. I'd like to cross the Hida River and get to tonight's lodging before sunset. I beg your leave."

"You're leaving now?" Dosan stood up with him. "I'm reluctant to see you go, but Ill go with you that far." He, too, had to get back to his castle before nightfall.

The forest of eighteen-foot spears put their backs to the evening sun and marched off to the east. Compared with them, the spearmen of Mino looked short and lacking in spirit.

"Ah, I don't want to live much longer. The day will come when my children go begging for life from that fool! Yet it can't be helped," Dosan tearfully told his retainers as he jostled along in his palanquin.

* * *

The war drum boomed, and the eerie call of the conch drifted over the fields. Some of Nobunaga's men were swimming in the Shonai River; others were riding in the fields, or training with bamboo spears. When they heard the conch, they stopped whatever they were doing and lined up in rows in front of the hut, waiting for Nobunaga to mount his horse.

"It's time to go back to the castle."

Nobunaga had swum for more than an hour, sunbathed on the riverbank, then jumped into the river again, frolicking like a river imp. Finally he said, "Let's go back," and walked briskly to his makeshift hut. He took off the white bellyband he wore when swimming, wiped himself dry, and put on hunting clothes and light armor.

"My horse," he ordered impatiently. His commands always put his retainers on edge. They tried to be understanding but were often confused, for their young lord was playful and prone to act in unexpected ways. The counterbalance was Ichikawa Daisuke. When Nobunaga's impetuosity threw his orderlies into confusion, one word from Daisuke and the soldiers and horses were soon lined up like rows of rice seedlings.

A look of satisfaction spread across Nobunaga's face. He turned his men toward Nagoya Castle, and they withdrew from the river, with Nobunaga in the middle of the procession. Today's drill had lasted about four hours. The burning midsummer sun was directly overhead. The soaked horses and troops marched on. Foul-smelling fumes rose from the marshes; green grasshoppers jumped out of the way with shrill cries. Sweat poured from the men's pallid faces. Nobunaga used his elbow to wipe the sweat off his face. Gradually his color returned, along with his wild and capricious nature.

"Who's that funny-looking creature running over there?"

Nobunaga's eyes seemed to be everywhere. Half a dozen soldiers, who had seen the man before Nobunaga, ran through the shoulder-high grass to where Hiyoshi was hiding. Hiyoshi had been waiting since the morning for an opportunity to get close to Nobunaga. He had secretly observed Nobunaga at the river. Earlier he had been run off by the guards, so he had set his mind to finding Nobunaga's route back to the castle, and had crept into the tall grasses by the roadside.

It's now or never! he thought. His body and soul were one, and all he could see was the lord of Owari on horseback. Hiyoshi yelled at the top of his voice, not knowing himself what he was saying. He knew his life was on the line. Before he was able to get close to his idol and be heard, there was a distinct possibility that he would be killed by the long spears of the guards. But he was not afraid. He would either advance on the tide of his ambition or disappear in the undertow.

Jumping to his feet, he saw Nobunaga, shut his eyes, and dashed toward him.

"I have a request! Please take me into your service! I want to serve you and lay down my life for you!" At least this was what he had meant to say, but he was too excited, and when the guards blocked his way with their spears, his voice broke and what actually came out was a meaningless garble.

He looked poorer than the poorest commoner. His hair was filthy, full of dust and burrs. Sweat and grime streaked his face black and red, and it seemed that only his eyes were alive, but they failed to see the spears that blocked his way. The guards swept his legs from under him with the shafts of their spears, but he somersaulted to within ten paces of Nobunaga's horse and jumped to his feet.

"I have a request, my lord!" he yelled, lunging toward the stirrups of Nobunaga's horse.

"Filthy swine!" Nobunaga thundered.

A soldier behind Hiyoshi grabbed him by the collar and threw him to the groun would have been run through, but Nobunaga shouted, "No!"

The approach of this filthy stranger intrigued him. The reason may have been that sensed the ardent hope burning in Hiyoshi's body.

"Speak up!"

Hearing that voice made Hiyoshi almost forget his pain and the guards. "My father served your father as a foot soldier. His name was Kinoshita Yaemon. I am his son, Hiyoshi. After my father died, I lived with my mother in Nakamura. I hoped to find an opportunity to serve you, and looked for a go-between, but in the end there was no way except direct appeal. I'm staking my life on this. I'm resigned to being struck down and killed here. If you take me into your service, I won't hesitate to lay my life down for you. If you will, please accept the only life I have. In this way, both my father, who is under leaves and grass, and I, who was born in this province, will have realized our true desires. He spoke quickly, half in a trance. But his singleminded passion got through to Nobunaga's heart. More than by his words, Nobunaga was swayed by Hiyoshi's sincerity.

He let out a strained laugh. "What an odd fellow," he said to one of his attendants. Then, turning back to Hiyoshi, "So you'd like to serve me?"

"Yes, my lord."

"What abilities do you have?"

"I have none, my lord."

"You have no abilities, and yet you want me to take you into my service?"

"Other than my willingness to die for you, I don't have any special talents."

His interest piqued, he stared at Hiyoshi, the edges of Nobunaga's mouth forming into a grin. "You have several times addressed me as 'my lord,' although no permission has been granted for you to be my retainer. What business do you have addressing me like that when you are not in my service?"

"As a native of Owari, I have always thought that if I were able to serve anyone, it would have to be you. I guess it slipped out."

Nobunaga nodded with approval and turned to Daisuke. "This man interests me said.

"Indeed." Daisuke put on a forced smile.

"Your wish is granted. I'll take you on. From today you are in my service."

Hiyoshi, choked with tears, could not express his happiness. A good many retainers were surprised, but also thought their lord was running true to form, acting capriciously as ever. As Hiyoshi brazenly entered their ranks, they frowned and said, "Back to the end of line, you. You can hold on to the tail of a packhorse."

"Yes, yes." Hiyoshi willingly took his place at the end of the procession, as happy as he would be in the land of dreams.

As the procession moved on to Nagoya, the roads cleared as though swept with a broom. Men and women prostrated themselves, their heads on the ground, in front of their houses and by the roadside.

Nobunaga did not practice self-restraint even in public. He would clear his throat while speaking to his retainers and laugh at the same time. Saying he was thirsty, he would eat melons while in the saddle and spit out the seeds.

Hiyoshi was walking in the middle of these roads for the first time. He kept an eye on his master's back, thinking, At last, this is the road. This is the way.

Nagoya Castle appeared before them. The water in the moat was turning green. Crossing the Karabashi Bridge, the procession meandered through the outer grounds and disappeared through the castle gate. It was the first time of many that Hiyoshi would cross this bridge and pass through this gate.

* * *

It was fall. Looking at the reapers in the rice paddies as he passed, a rather short samurai hurried along on foot toward Nakamura. Arriving at the house of Chikuami, he called out in an uncommonly loud voice, "Mother!"

"Oh, my! Hiyoshi!"

His mother had given birth to yet another child. Sitting among red beans spread out to dry, she cradled the child in her arms, exposing its pale skin to the rays of the sun. Turning around and seeing the transformation in her son, a strong emotion broke across her face. Was she happy or sad? Her eyes filled with tears and her lip quivered.

"It's me, Mother. Is everybody well?"

With a little jump, Hiyoshi sat down on a straw mat next to her. The smell of milk lingered on her breast. She embraced him in the same way as the child she was nursing.

"What's happened?" she asked.

"Nothing. This is my day off. It's the first time I've been outside the castle since I went there."

"Ah, good. Your showing up so suddenly made me think that things had gone wrong again." She heaved a sigh of relief, and for the first time since his arrival, showed him a smiling face. She took a good look at her grown-up son, noting his clean silk clothes, the way his hair was tied, his long and short swords. Tears brimmed from her eyes and rolled down her cheeks.

"Mother, you should be happy. At last I'm one of Lord Nobunaga's retainers. Oh, I'm only in the servants' group, but I really am a samurai in service."

"Good for you. You've done well." She held her tattered sleeves to her face, unable to look up.

Hiyoshi put his arm around her. "Just to please you, this morning I tied my hair up and put on clean clothes. But still better things are to come after this. I'm going to show you what I can do, make you really happy. Mother, I hope you have a long life!"

"When I heard what happened last summer I never imagined I'd see you like this."

"I suppose you heard from Otowaka."

"Yes, he came and told me you'd caught His Lordship's eye and had been taken on as a servant up at the castle. I was so happy I could have died."

"If such a little thing makes you so happy, what about the future? The first thing I want you to know is that I have been permitted to have a surname."

"And what might that be?"

"Kinoshita, like my father. But my first name has been changed to Tokichiro."

"Kinoshita Tokichiro."

"That's right. It's a good name, don't you think? You'll have to put up with this dilapidated house and these rags for a while longer, but cheer up. You're the mother of Kinoshita Tokichiro!"

"I've never been so happy." She repeated this several times, the tears freshening with each word Tokichiro spoke. He was very pleased to see how happy she was for him. Who else in the world could be so truly happy for him over such a trivial matter? He even imagined that his years of wandering, hunger, and hardship contributed to the happiness of this moment.

"By the way, how's Otsumi?"

"She's helping with the harvest."

"Is she all right? She's not sick, is she?"

"She's the same as ever," Onaka said, reminded of Otsumi's miserable adolescense.

"When she comes back, please tell her she won't have to suffer forever. Before long, when I become somebody, she'll have a sash of figured satin, a chest of drawers with a gold crest, and everything she needs for her wedding. Ha, ha! You think I'm just rambling on, as usual?"

"Are you leaving already?"

"Service at the castle is strict. So, Mother," he lowered his voice, "it's disrespectful to repeat what people say about His Lordship not being able to rule the province, but the truth is, the Lord Nobunaga seen by the public and the Lord Nobunaga in Nagoya Castle are very different."

"That's probably true."

"It's a sorry situation. He has very few real allies. Both his retainers and his own relatives are for the most part against him. At nineteen he's all alone. If you think the suffering of starving farmers is the most pitiful thing, you're far from correct. If you see the point, you can be more patient. We shouldn't give in just because we're human. Were on the road to happiness, my master and me."

"That makes me happy, but don't be too hasty. No matter how much you rise in the world, my happiness can't be any greater than it is right now."

"Well, then, look after yourself."

"Won't you stay and talk a little more?"

"I have to get back to my duties."

He silently stood up and placed some money on his mother's straw mat. Then he looked around fondly at the persimmon tree, the chrysanthemums by the fence, and the storage shed in back.

He did not come again that year, but at the end of the year Otowaka visited his mother, bringing her a little money, medicine, and cloth to make a kimono. "Hes still a household servant," he reported. "When he reaches eighteen and his stipend increases a little, if he can get a house in town, he says he'll bring his mother to live with him. Hes a little crazy, but he's fairly sociable too, and he's well liked. The reckless incident at the Shonai River was like an escape from death. He does have to have the devil's own luck.

That New Year Otsumi wore new clothes for the first time. "My little brother sent them to me. Tokichiro at the castle!" she told one and all, and wherever she went, she was unable to keep from repeating "my little brother did this" and "my little brother did that."

* * *

At times Nobunaga's mood changed; he became quiet and spent the entire day moping. This extraordinary silence and melancholy seemed to be natural attempts to control his extremely quick temper.

"Bring Uzuki!" he suddenly yelled one day, and ran off to the riding grounds. His father, Nobuhide, had spent his whole life in warfare, with virtually no time to relax in the castle. During more than half of each year he campaigned in the west and east. He did manage on most mornings to hold a memorial service for his ancestors, receive the salutions of his retainers, listen to lectures on ancient texts, and practice the martial arts and tend to the government of his province until evening. When the day was over, he would study treatises on military strategy or hold council meetings, or try to be a good father to his family. When Nobunaga succeeded his father, this order came to an end. It was not in his character to follow a strict daily routine. He was impulsive in the extreme, his mind like the clouds of an evening squall, ideas suddenly arising and just as suddenly discarded. It seemed that his body and spirit were beyond all regulation.

Needless to say, this kept his attendants very much on their toes. That day he had sat down with a book, and later had gone meekly to the Buddhist chapel to offer a prayer to his ancestors. In the quiet of the chapel, his call for his horse was as startling as a thunderbolt. The attendants could not find him where they had heard his voice. They rushed the stables and followed him to the riding grounds. He said nothing, but the look on his face plainly reproached them for their slowness.

Uzuki, his favorite horse, was white. When he was dissatisfied and plied the whip, the old horse reacted languidly. Nobunaga was in the habit of leading Uzuki around by the muzzle, complaining about his slowness. Then he'd say, "Give him some water." Taking a ladle, a groom would open the horse's mouth and pour the water in, and Nobunaga would thrust his hand into the horse's mouth and grab his tongue. Today he said, "Uzuki! You've got an evil tongue, haven't you? That's why your legs are heavy."

"He seems to have a bit of a cold."

"Has age caught up with Uzuki too?"

"He was here at the time of the last lord, so he must be pretty old."

"I imagine Uzuki's only one of many in Nagoya Castle who is getting old and feeble, Ten generations have passed since the days of the first shogun, and the world is given over to ritual and deception. Everything is old and decrepit!"

He was talking half to himself; perhaps he was angry at heaven. Nobunaga jumped into the saddle and took a turn around the riding grounds. He was a born rider. His teacher was Ichikawa Daisuke, but recently he had taken to riding alone.

Suddenly horse and rider were overtaken by a dark bay, galloping at a furious pace. Left behind, an enraged Nobunaga raced after the other horse, shouting, "Goroza!"

Goroza, a spirited youth of about twenty-four and the eldest son of Hirate Nakatsukasa, was the castle's chief gunner. His full name was Gorozaemon and he had two others, Kemmotsu and Jinzaemon.

Nobunaga's temper rose. He had been beaten! Eating someone's dust! It was beyond endurance! He whipped his own horse furiously. The hooves rang on the earth. Uzuki ran so swiftly that you could hardly see the hooves strike the ground, and his silver tail trailed straight out behind him. He jumped into the lead.

Goroza shouted, "Watch out, my lord, his hooves are going to split!"

"What's the matter? Can't you keep up?" Nobunaga shouted back. Mortified, Goroza struck out in pursuit, digging into the bay's flanks with his stirrups. Nobunaga's horse was known far and wide as "Uzuki of the Oda," even among the clan's enemies. The bay could not compare with him in either value or character. But the bay was young and Goroza's horsemanship was better than Nobunaga's. From a lead of about twenty lengths, the distance shrank to ten, then five, then one, and then to a nose. Nobunaga was trying his hardest not to be passed, but he himself began to run out of breath. Goroza sped past, leaving his master in a cloud of dust. Annoyed, Nobunaga jumped to the ground, looking mortified. "That bay has good legs," he grumbled. There was no way he could admit any fault on his own part. To his attendants it seemed their lord had dismounted instead of going the distance.

"Being beaten by Goroza isn't going to brighten his mood," observed an attendant. Dreading his inevitable ill humor, they ran up to him in confusion. One man reached the dazed Nobunaga ahead of the others and, kneeling before him, offered him a lacquered drinking ladle.

"A drink of water, my lord?" It was Tokichiro, recently elevated to sandal bearer. Although "sandal bearer" did not sound like much, being taken from the ranks of the servants to be a personal attendant was a mark of exceptional favor. Tokichiro had come a long way in a short time, by working hard and immersing himself in his duties.

Still, his master did not see him. He neither looked at him nor grunted so much as a single syllable. He took the ladle without a word, finished it off in one gulp, and handed it back.

"Call Goroza," he ordered.

Goroza was tethering his horse to a willow at the edge of the riding grounds. He responded instantly to the summons, saying, "I was just thinking of going to him." He calmly wiped the sweat off his face, rearranged his collar and smoothed his disordered hair. Goroza had made a resolution.

"My lord," said Goroza, "I'm afraid I was rather rude just now." He knelt and spoke in a decidedly cool manner.

The contours of Nobunaga's face softened. "You gave me a good chase. When did you get such a splendid horse? What do you call him?"

The attendants relaxed.

Goroza looked up with a little smile. "You noticed? He's my pride and joy. A horse trader from the north was on his way to the capital to sell it to a nobleman. The price was high and I didn't have the kind of money he was asking for it, so I had to sell a family heirloom, a tea bowl I was given by my father. The bowl was called Nowake, and that the name I gave the bay."

"Well, well, it's no wonder then that I've seen an excellent horse today. I'd like to have that horse."

"My lord?"

"I'll take it at any price you ask, but let me have it."

"I'm afraid I can't do that."

"Did I hear you correctly?"

"I must refuse."

"Why? You could get yourself another good horse."

"A good horse is as difficult to find as a good friend."

"That's exactly why you should turn him over to me. I'm at the point of wanting a horse that hasn't been ridden to death."

"I really must refuse. I love that horse, and not just for my own pride and amusement, but because on the battlefield he enables me to do my best in the service of my 1ord, which should be the chief concern of a samurai. My lord expressly desires this horse, but there is absolutely no reason for a samurai to give up a thing so important to him."

Reminded of a samurai's duty to serve his master, even Nobunaga could not flatly demand the horse, but neither was he able to overcome his own selfishness. "Goroza, do you seriously refuse my request?"

"Well, in this case, yes."

"I suspect the bay is above your social position. If you were to become a man like your father, you could ride a horse like Nowake. But while you're still young, it's not fitting for someone of your rank."

"Most respectfully, I must say this. Is it not a waste to have such a fine horse and then ride around the town eating melons and persimmons in the saddle? Wouldn't it be better for Nowake to be ridden by a warrior like me?" He had finally come out with it. The words that had spilled from his mouth did not come so much from concern about the horse as from the anger he experienced every day.

Hirate Nakatsukasa locked the gate and stayed by himself in his mansion for over twenty days. He had served the Oda clan without a rest for over forty years, and had served Nobunaga since the day Nobuhide, on his deathbed, had said, "I entrust him to you," and made him Nobunaga's guardian and chief retainer of the province. One day, toward evening, he looked into the mirror and was surprised at how white hair had become. It had reason to turn white. He was well over sixty, but he had had time to think about his age. He closed the lid on the mirror and called for his steward, Amemiya Kageyu.

"Kageyu, has the messenger left?"

"Yes, I sent him off some time ago."

"They'll probably come, don't you think?"

"I think they'll come together."

"Is the sake ready?"

"Yes, sir. I'll have a meal prepared, too."

It was late winter, but the plum blossoms were still closed. It had been terribly cold that year, and the thick ice on the pond had not melted for even a day. The men he had summoned were his three sons, each of whom had his own residence. It was customary for the eldest son and his younger brothers to live with their father as one large family, but Nakatsukasa had them maintain separate residences. Saying that if he had to worry about his own children and grandchildren he might neglect his duties, he lived alone. He had brought Nobunaga up as if he were his own child, but of late his ward had treated him coldly and seemed to resent him. Nakatsukasa had questioned some of Nobunaga's attendants about the incident at the riding grounds. Ever since then Nakatsukasa had looked embarrassed.

Goroza, having incurred the displeasure of Nobunaga, had stopped going to the castle and kept to himself. Shibata Katsuie and Hayashi Mimasaka, retainers who always sided against Nakatsukasa, saw their chance, and by flattering Nobunaga they were able to deepen the rift between them. Their strength lay in the fact that they were younger, and their power and influence were definitely on the rise.

Twenty days of seclusion had brought home to Nakatsukasa an awareness of his age. Tired now, he no longer had the spirit to fight with these men. He was also aware of his lord's isolation and was worried about the future of the clan. He was making a clear copy of a long document composed the previous day.

It was almost cold enough to freeze the water in the inkstone.

Kageyu entered the room and announced, "Gorozaemon and Kemmotsu are here." Not yet knowing the purpose of the summons, they were sitting by a brazier, waiting.

"I was shocked, it was so unexpected. I was afraid he might have taken sick," said Kemmotsu.

"Yes, well, I suspect he heard what happened. I suppose I'm in for a good scolding."

"If it were that, he would have acted sooner. I think he has something else in mind."

They were grown up now, but they still found their father a bit frightening. They waited anxiously. The third son, Jinzaemon, was on a trip to another province.

"It's cold, isn't it?" their father remarked as he slid the door open. Both brothers noticed how white his hair had become, and his thinness.

"Are you all right?"

"Yes, I'm fine. I just wanted to see you. It's my age, I suppose, but there are times when I feel very lonely."

"There's nothing special on your mind, no urgent business?"

"No, no. It's been so long since we had dinner together and talked away the night. Ha, ha! Make yourselves comfortable." He was the same as always. Outside, there was a racketing on the eaves, perhaps hail falling, and the cold seemed to intensify. Being with their father made his sons forget the cold. Nakatsukasa was in such a good mood that Gorozaemon was unable to find an opportunity to apologize for his behavior. After the dishes were cleared away, Nakatsukasa ordered a bowl of the powdered green tea he was so fond of.

Quite abruptly, as though reminded of something by the tea bowl in his hand, he said, "Goroza, I hear you have let the tea bowl, Nowake, which I entrusted to you, fall into another man's hands. Is that correct?"

Goroza responded candidly. "Yes. I know it was a family heirloom, but there was a horse that I wanted, so I sold it to get the horse."

"Is that so? Well, that's good. If you have that attitude, there should be no trouble about your service to His Lordship even after I'm gone." His tone changed sharply. "In selling the tea bowl and buying the horse, your attitude was admirable. But if I heard correctly, you beat Uzuki in a race, and when His Lordship asked for your bay, you refused. Is that correct?"

"That's why he's displeased with me. I'm afraid it's caused you a lot of trouble."

"Hold on a minute."

"Sir?"

"Don't think about me. Why did you refuse? It was niggardly of you." Gorozaemon was at a loss for words. "Ignoble!"

"Do you really see it that way? I feel terrible."

"Then why did you not give Lord Nobunaga what he asked for?"

"I am a samurai resolved to give up my very life if my lord so desires, so why should I be stingy about anything else? But I did not buy the bay for my own amusement. It's so I can serve my lord on the battlefield."

"I understand that."

"If I gave up the horse, the master would probably be pleased. But I cannot overlook his selfishness. He sees a horse that is faster than Uzuki and ignores the feelings of his retainers. Is that right? I am not the only one who says the Oda clan is in dangerous straits. I imagine that you, my father, understand this better than I do. While there are times when he may be a genius, his selfish and indulgent nature, no matter how old he gets, is regrettable, even if it is simply his nature. We retainers are exceedingly nervous about his character. To let him have his way might resemble loyalty, but in fact it is not a good thing to do. For this reason I have purposely been obstinate."

"That was wrong."

"Was it?"

"You may see it as loyalty but in fact it makes his bad disposition worse. From the time he was an infant I held him in my arms, much more often than I did my own children. I know his disposition. Genius he may be, but he has more than his share of faults, too. That you offended him doesn't even amount to dust."

"That may be so. It's disrespectful to say this, but Kemmotsu, and I, and most of the retainers, regret serving this fool. It's only people like Shibata Katsuie and Hayashi Mimasaka who rejoice in having such a master."

"That's not so. No matter what people say, I can't believe that. All of you must follow His Lordship to the bitter end, just as he is, whether I am alive or not."

"Don't worry about that. I do not plan to waver from my principles even if I am out of favor with my master."

"I can be at peace, then. But I've fast become an old tree. Like grafted branches, you will have to serve in my place."

Upon thinking about it later, Gorozaemon and Kemmotsu realized that there were any number of clues in Nakatsukasa's conversation that night, but they returned to their homes without realizing their father was determined to die.

Hirate Nakatsukasa's suicide was discovered the next morning. He had cut his belly open in splendid fashion. The brothers could discern no trace of regret or bitterness in his dead face. He left no last will or testament to his familyjust a letter addressed to Nobunaga. Every word was charged with Nakatsukasa's deep and abiding loyalty to his master.

When he heard about his chief retainer's death, a look of great shock spread across Nobunaga's face. By his death, Nakatsukasa admonished his lord. He had known Nobunaga's natural genius and his faults, and as Nobunaga read through the document; before his eyes filled with tears, his chest was pierced with a pain as sharp as a whiplash.

"Old man! Forgive me!" he sobbed. He had pained Nakatsukasa, who was his retainer, but who was also closer to him than his own father. And with the incident over the horse, he had imposed his will on Nakatsukasa, as usual.

"Call Goroza."

When the chief gunner prostrated himself before him, Nobunaga sat on the floor facing him.

"The message your father left me has pierced my heart. I will never forget it. I have no apology other than that." He was about to prostrate himself in front of Goroza but the youth confusedly took his hands in veneration. Lord and retainer embraced each other in tears.

That year the lord of the Oda built a temple in the castle town, dedicated to his old guardian's salvation. The magistrate asked him, "What name are we to give the temple? As the founder, you'll have to give guidance to the head priest on the selection of a name.

"The old man would be happier with a name chosen by me." Taking up a brush, he wrote "Seishu Temple." After that, he would often set off suddenly for the temple, although he rarely held memorial services or sat with the priests reading the sutras.

"Old man! Old man!" Walking around the temple, he would mutter to himself and then just as abruptly return to the castle. These excursions appeared to be the whim of a madman. Once, when he was hawking, he suddenly tore flesh off a small bird and threw it into the air, saying "Old man! Take what I've caught!" Another time, while fishing, he splashed his foot in the water and said, "Old man! Become a Buddha!" The violence in his voice and eyes alarmed his attendants.

* * *

Nobunaga turned twenty-one in the first year of Koji. In May he found a pretext to make war on Oda Hikogoro, the nominal head of the Oda clan. He attacked his castle in Kiyosu and, after taking it, moved there from Nagoya.

Tokichiro observed his master's progress with satisfaction. The isolated Nobunaga was surrounded by hostile kinsmenuncles and brothers among themand the task of clearing them from his path was far more pressing than dealing with other enemies.

"He has to be watched," Hikogoro had warned. Putting pressure on him wherever he could, he planned Nobunaga's destruction. The governor of Kiyosu Castle, Shiba Yoshimune, and his son, Yoshikane, were supporters of Nobunaga. When Higokoro discovered this, he exclaimed angrily, "What a lesson in ingratitude!" and he ordered the governors execution. Yoshikane fled to Nobunaga, who hid him in Nagoya Castle. On that same day Nobunaga led his troops in an attack on Kiyosu Castle, rallying his men with the the battle cry, "To avenge the Provincial Governor!"

To attack the head of the clan, Nobunaga had to have right on his side. But it was also an opportunity to clear away some of the obstacles in his path. He put his uncle, Nobumitsu, in charge of Nagoya Castle, but he soon fell victim to an assassin.

"You go, Sado. You're the only one who can govern Nagoya Castle in my place." When Hayashi Sado took up his appointment, some of Nobunaga's retainers sighed, "He's a fool after all. Just when you think he's shown a spark of talent, he goes and does something stupid, like trusting Hayashi!"

There was good cause to be suspicious of Hayashi Sado. While Nobunaga's father lived, there had been no more loyal retainer. And for that reason, Nobuhide had appointed him and Hirate Nakatsukasa as his son's guardians after his death. But because Nobunaga had shown himself to be spoiled and unmanageable, Hayashi had given up on him. Thus he conspired with Nobunaga's younger brother, Nobuyuki, and his mother, in Suemori Castle, to overthrow Nobunaga.

"Lord Nobunaga must not know of Hayashi's treason," Tokichiro overheard troubled retainers whisper on more than one occasion. "If he did, he wouldn't have made him governor of Nagoya." But Tokichiro himself had no worries for his master. He asked himself how his master would deal with the problem. It seemed that the only ones with happy faces at Kiyosu were Nobunaga and one of his young sandal bearers.

One group among Nobunaga's senior retainers, including Hayashi Sado, his younger brother Mimasaka, and Shibata Katsuie, continued to see their lord as a hopeless fool.

"I'll admit the way Lord Nobunaga handled his first meeting with his father-in-law was different from his usual vacuous behavior. But that's what I call fool's luck. And during their formal interview, he behaved so disgracefully and shamelessly that even his father-in-law was appalled. As the saying goes, 'There's no cure for fools.' And there's no excusing his later conduct, no matter how you look at it." Shibata Katsuie and the others had convinced themselves that there was no hope for the future, and their views gradually became public knowledge. When Hayashi Sado became governor of Nagoya, he was often visited by Shibata Katsuie, and the castle soon became the seedbed of a treasonous plot.

"The rain is pleasant, is it not?"

"Yes, I find it adds to the charm of the tea." Sado and Katsuie were sitting face to face in a small teahouse, sheltered by a grove of trees, in the grounds of the castle. The rainy season had passed, but the rain still fell from a cloudy sky, and green plums plopped to the ground.

"It'll probably clear up tomorrow," Sado's brother, Mimasaka, said to himself as he sheltered under the branches of the plum trees. He had gone out to light the garden lantern. After lighting it, he lingered a bit and looked around. Finally, when he returned to the teahouse, he said in a low voice, "Nothing unusual to report. There's nobody around, so we can talk freely." Katsuie nodded.

"Well, let's get down to business. Yesterday I went secretly to Suemori Castle. I was received by Lord Nobunaga's mother and Lord Nobuyuki, and I discussed our plans with them. The decision is yours now."

"What did his mother say?"

"She is of the same opinion, and made no objections. She favors Nobuyuki over Nobunaga no matter what."

"Good. What about Nobuyuki?"

"He said that if Hayashi Sado and Shibata Katsuie rose against Nobunaga, naturally he would join them for the good of the clan."

"You persuaded them, I suppose."

"Well, his mother is involved, and Nobuyuki is weak-willed. If I didn't egg them on, there would be no reason for them to join us."

"We have plenty of justification to overthrow Nobunaga, as long as we have their agreement. We're not the only retainers worried about Nobunaga's foolishness and concerned for the safety of the clan."

"'For Owari and one hundred more years for the Oda clan!' will be our rallying cry, but what about military preparations?"

"We have a good opportunity now. I can move quickly from Nagoya. When the war drum sounds, I'll be ready."

"Good. Well, then" Katsuie leaned forward conspiratorially.

At that moment something fell noisily to the ground in the garden. It was just a few unripe plums. There was a lull in the rain, but drops of water carried by gusts of wind hit the eaves. Doglike, a human figure crawled out from the space under the floor. The plums had not fallen by themselves a few moments before; the black-garbed man, who had stuck his head out from under the house, had thrown them. When all eyes in turned, the man took advantage of the distraction and disappeared into the wind and darkness.

Ninja were the eyes and ears of the lord of the castle. Anyone who ruled a castle, living within its walls and constantly surrounded by retainers, had to depend on spies. Nobunaga employed a master ninja. But even his closest retainers did not know the mans identity.

Nobunaga had three sandal bearers: Matasuke, Ganmaku, and Tokichiro. Though they were servants, they had their own separate quarters and took turns on duty near the garden.

"Ganmaku, what's the matter?"

Tokichiro and Ganmaku were close friends. Ganmaku was lying under the futon, asleep. He loved nothing better than to sleep and did so at every opportunity.

"My stomach hurts," Ganmaku said from under the futon.

Tokichiro tugged at the edge of the bedding. "You're lying. Get up. I just got back from town, and I bought something tasty on the way."

"What?" Ganmaku stuck his head out, but, realizing that he had been tricked, went back under the bedding again.

Fool! Don't tease a sick man. Get out of here. You're bothering me."

"Please get up. Matasuke's not here, and there's something I have to ask you.

Ganmaku got out from under the covers reluctantly. "Just when a person's sleeping

Cursing, he got up and went to rinse his mouth with water that flowed from a spring in the garden. Tokichiro followed him out.

The cottage was gloomy, but it was hidden in the innermost part of the castle grounds, giving it a commanding view of the castle town, which made the heart feel expansive.

"What is it? What do you want to ask me?"

"It's about last night."

"Last night?"

"You can pretend not to understand, but I know. I think you went to Nagoya."

"Oh, yeah?"

"I think you went to spy in the castle, and listened in on a secret conversation between the governor and Shibata Katsuie."

"Shush, Monkey! Watch what you say!"

"Well, then, tell me the truth. Don't hold back from a friend. I've known it for a long time, but said nothing and watched you. You're Lord Nobunaga's ninja, aren't you?"

"Tokichiro, I'm no match for your eyes. How did you find out?"

"Well, we share the same quarters, don't we? Lord Nobunaga is a very important master to me, too. People like me worry about Lord Nobunaga, though we keep it to ourselves."

"Is that what you wanted to ask me about?"

"Ganmaku, I swear by the gods that I won't tell anyone else."

Ganmaku stared at Tokichiro. "Okay, I'll tell you. But it's daytime and we'll be seen. Wait for the right time."

Later, Ganmaku told him what was going on in the clan. And, having both understanding and sympathy for his master's predicament, Tokichiro could serve him all the better. But he did not have the slightest misgiving for the future of his young, isolated lord, who was surrounded by such scheming retainers. Nobuhide's retainers were about to desert Nobunaga, and only Tokichiro, who had been with him for a short time, had any confidence in him.

I wonder how my master is going to get out of this one, Tokichiro thought. Still only a servant, he could only look from afar with devotion.

It was toward the end of the month. Nobunaga, who usually went out with only a few retainers, unexpectedly called for a horse and rode out of the castle. It was about three leagues from Kiyosu to Moriyama, and he would always gallop there and return before breakfast. But that day, Nobunaga turned his horse east at the crossroads and headed away from Moriyama.

"My lord!"

"Where is he going now?" Surprised and confused, his five or six mounted attendants chased after him. The foot soldiers and sandal bearers were naturally left behind, straggling along the road. Only two of his servants, Ganmaku and Tokichiro, while falling behind, ran on desperately, determined not to lose sight of their master's horse.

"By the gods! We're in for trouble!" Tokichiro said. They looked at one another, knowing that they had to keep their wits about them. This was because Nobunaga was riding straight for Nagoya Castlewhich Ganmaku had told Tokichiro was the center of the plot to replace Nobunaga with his younger brother!

Nobunaga, unpredictable as ever, spurred his horse toward a place fraught with danger, where no one knew what might happen. There was no more dangerous course of action, and Ganmaku and Tokichiro were frightened that something might happen to their master.

But it was Hayashi Sado, governor of Nagoya Castle, and his younger brother who were the most surprised by the unexpected visit. A panicked retainer ran into the roorr the keep. "My lord! My lord! Come quickly! Lord Nobunaga is here!"

"What? What are you talking about?" Doubting his own ears, he did not make a move to get up. It just was not possible.

"He came here with no more than four or five attendants. They suddenly rode through the main gate. He was laughing out loud about something with his attendanants.

"Is this true?"

"I swear it! Yes!"

"Lord Nobunaga, here? What does it mean?" Sado was losing his head unnecessarily. The color had drained from his face. "Mimasaka, what do you think he wants?"

"Whatever it is, we'd better go and greet him."

"Yes. Let's hurry!"

As they ran down the main corridor, they could already hear the sound of Nobunaga's vigorous footsteps coming from the entrance. The brothers stepped to the side and threw themselves to the floor.

"Ah! Sado and Mimasaka. Are you both well? I was thinking of riding as far Moriyama, but decided to come to Nagoya for some tea first. All this bowing and scraping is far too serious. Let's forget formality. Quickly, bring me some tea." Saying this as he walked past them, he sat down on the platform in the main room of the castle that knew so well. Then he turned to the retainers who were chasing after him, trying to catch their breath. "It's hot, eh? Really hot," he said, fanning himself through his open collar.

The tea was brought in, then the cakes, and then the cushionsall out of order because everyone was thrown into such confusion by the unexpected visit. The brothers hastily presented themselves and made their obeisance, unable to ignore the confusion of the maids and retainers, and left their master's presence.

"It's noon. He must be hungry from his ride. He'll probably order lunch soon. Go to the kitchens and have them prepare a meal." While Sado gave orders, Mimasaka tugged at his sleeve and whispered, "Katsuie wants to see you."

Hayashi nodded and replied softly, "I'll come soon. Go on ahead."

Shibata Katsuie had come to Nagoya Castle earlier that day. He was about to leave after a secret meeting, but the confusion caused by Nobunaga's sudden arrival made it awkward for him to leave. Trapped, he had crawled, shaking, into a secret room. Both men joined him there and breathed a sigh of relief.

That was unexpected! What a surprise!" said Sado.

"It's typical of him," Mimasaka replied. "You'd go crazy trying to figure out the rules, You never know what he's going to do next! There's nothing worse than the whims of a fool!"

Glancing toward the room in which Nobunaga was sitting, Shibata Katsuie s

"That's probably why he got the better of that old fox Saito Dosan."

"Maybe so," said Sado.

"Sado," Mimasaka had a grim expression on his face. Looking around, he lowered his voice and said, "Wouldn't it be best to do it now?"

"What do you mean?"

"He has come with only five or six attendants, so isn't this what you might call an opportunity sent by the gods?"

"To kill him?"

"Precisely. While he's eating, we sneak in some good fighters, and when I come out to serve him, I give the signal, and we kill him."

"And if we fail?" Sado asked.

"How can we? We'll put men in the garden and the corridors. We might have a few casualties, but if we attack him with all our might"

"What do you think, Sado?" Mimasaka asked anxiously.

Hayashi Sado had his eyes cast straight down, under the intense stares of Katsuie and Mimasaka. "Well. This may be the opportunity we've been waiting for."

"Are we agreed?"

Looking each other in the eye, the three men had just drawn up their knees. Just at that moment they heard the sound of energetic footsteps walking along the corridor, and the lacquered door slid open.

"Oh, you're in here. Hayashi! Mimasaka! I drank the tea and ate the cakes. I'm going back to Kiyosu now!"

The men's knees drooped, and the three of them cowered. Suddenly, Nobunaga spotted Shibata Katsuie. "Hey! Is that you, Katsuie?" Nobunaga said with a smile over the prostrate form of Katsuie. "When I arrived, I saw a bay that looked just like the one you ride. So it was yours after all?"

"Yes I happened to come by, but as you can see, I'm in my everyday clothes. So I thought that it would be rude of me to appear before you, my lord, and I stayed back here."

"Very good, that's very funny. Look at me. Look how shabby I am."

"Please forgive me, my lord."

Nobunaga lightly tickled Katsuie's neck with his lacquered fan. "In the relationship between lord and retainer, it's too standoffish to be so concerned with appearances or to be a slave to etiquette! Formality is for the courtiers in the capital. It's good enough for he Oda clan to be country samurai."

"Yes, my lord."

"What's the matter, Katsuie? You're trembling."

"I feel even worse, thinking I may have offended you, my lord."

"Ha, ha, ha, ha! I forgive you. Get up. No, wait, wait. The strings of my leather socks re untied. Katsuie, while you're down there, would you tie them?"

"Of course, my lord."

"Sado."

"My lord?"

"I disturbed you, didn't I?"

"Of course not, my lord."

"It's not just me who might drop in unexpectedly, but also guests from enemy provinces. Be on the alert, you're in charge!"

"I'm always on duty, from morning till night."

"Good. I'm glad to have such reliable retainers. But it's not just for me. If you made a mistake, these men would also lose their heads. Katsuie, have you finished?"

"I've tied them, my lord."

"Thank you."

Nobunaga walked away from the three still-prostrate men, went from the central corridor to the entrance by a circuitous route, and left. Katsuie, Sado, and Mimasaka looked at each other's pale faces, momentarily dazed. But when they came to themselves, they ran frantically after Nobunaga and once again prostrated themselves at the entrance. But Nobunaga could no longer be seen. Only the sound of clattering hooves could be heard on the slope that led to the main gate. The retainers, who were always being left behind kept close to Nobunaga, trying not to lose him again. But of the servants, only Ganmaku and Tokichiro, though they could not keep up, came up behind.

"Ganmaku?"

"Yeah?"

"It went well, didn't it?"

"It did." They hurried along behind him, happy to see the figure of their master in front of them. If something had happened, they had agreed to inform Kiyosu Castle by sending a smoke signal from the fire tower, and kill the local guards if they had to.

Nazuka Castle was a vital point in Nobunaga's defenses, held by one of his kinsmen,Sakuma Daigaku. It was a day in early fall, before dawn, when the men in the castle were awakened by the unexpected arrival of soldiers. They jumped up. Was it the enemy? No the men were their allies.

In the mist, a scout yelled out from the watchtower, "The men of Nagoya are in revolt! Shibata Katsuie has a thousand men, Hayashi Mimasaka over seven hundred!"

Nazuka Castle was shorthanded. Riders rode into the mist to report to Kiyosu. Nobunaga was still asleep. But when he heard the news, he quickly put on his armor, grabbed a spear, and ran out without a single attendant. And then, ahead of Nobunaga stood a single ordinary soldier waiting with a horse by the Karabashi Gate.

"Your horse, my lord," he said, offering the reins to Nobunaga.

Nobunaga's face wore an unusual expression, as though he were surprised that somi one had been faster than he. "Who are you?" he asked.

Removing his helmet, the soldier was about to kneel. Nobunaga was already in the saddle. "That's not necessary. Who are you?"

"Your sandal bearer, Tokichiro."

"Monkey?" Nobunaga was amazed again. Why was his sandal bearer, whose duties were in the garden, the first to appear ready for battle? His equipment was simple, but he did have a breastplate, shin guards, and a helmet. Nobunaga was delighted by Tokichiros fighting figure.

"Are you ready to fight?"

"Give me the word to follow you, my lord."

"Good! Come along!"

Nobunaga and Tokichiro had gone two or three hundred yards through the thinning morning mist when they heard the roar of twenty, thirty, then fifty mounted men, followed by four or five hundred foot soldiers, turning the mist black. The men at Nazuka had fought desperately. Nobunaga, a single horseman, dashed into the enemy ranks.

"Who dares raise his hand against me? Here I am, Sado, Mimasaka, Katsuie! How many men do you have? Why did you rebel against me? Come out and fight, man to man!" The booming of his angry voice silenced the war cries of the rebels. "Traitors! I've come to punish you! Running away is disloyal too!"

Mimasaka was so frightened that he fled. Nobunaga's voice pursued him like thunder. Even for these men, on whom Mimasaka counted, Nobunaga was their natural lord. When Nobunaga in person rode among them and spoke to them, they were incapable of turning their spears against him.

"Wait! Traitor!" Nobunaga caught up with the fleeing Mimasaka and ran him through with his spear. Shaking off the blood, he turned to Mimasaka's men and proclaimed, "Even though he struck at his lord, he will never become the ruler of a province. Rather than be the tools of traitors and leave a dishonored name to your children's children, apologize now! Repent!"

When he heard that the left flank of the rebel forces had collapsed and that Mimasaka was dead, Katsuie sought refuge with Nobunaga's mother and brother in Suemori Castle.

Nobunaga's mother cried and trembled when she heard of the defeat of their army; Nobuyuki shuddered. Katsuie, the defeated general of the rebel forces, said, "It would be best if I renounced the world." He shaved his head, took off his armor, and put on the robes of a Buddhist priest. The next day, in the company of Hayashi Sado, and Nobuyuki and his mother, he went to Kiyosu to beg forgiveness for his crimes.

Nobunaga's mother's apology was especially effective. Rehearsed by Sado and Katsuie, she begged him to spare the three men. Contrary to their expectations, Nobunaga was not angry. "I forgive them," he said simply to his mother, and turning to Katsuie, whose back was soaked with sweat, he continued, "Priest, why have you shaved your head? What a confused wretch you are!" He gave a forced smile and then spoke sharply to Hayashi Sado. "You too. This is unbecoming for a man of your age. After Hirate Nakatsukasa died, I relied on you as my righthand man. I regret causing Nakatsukasa's death." Tears came to Nobunaga's eyes and he was silent for a moment. "No, no. It was because of my unworthiness that Nakatsukasa committed suicide and you turned traitor. From now on, I am going to reflect on things more deeply. And you will serve me, giving me your hearts fully. Otherwise there is no point in being a warrior. Should a samurai follow one lord or be a masterless ronin?

Hayashi Sado's eyes were opened. He saw what Nobunaga was really like, and finally understood his natural genius. He firmly pledged his loyalty and withdrew without lifting his head.

But it seemed as though Nobunaga's own brother did not understand this. Nobuyuki had rather a low opinion of Nobunaga's magnanimity and thought, My violent older

brother can't do anything to me because my mother's here.

Blind, and protected by a mother's love, Nobuyuki continued his plotting. Nobunaga deplored this, thinking, I would gladly overlook Nobuyuki's behavior. But because of him, many of my retainers may rebel and err in their duty as samurai. Although he is my brother, he must die for the good of the clan. Finding a pretext, Nobunaga arrested Nobuyuki and ran him through.

Nobody considered Nobunaga a fool any longer. On the contrary, everyone crouched in fear of his intelligence and the keenness of his eye.

"The medicine was a little too effective," Nobunaga occasionally remarked with a sardonic grin. But Nobunaga had made his preparations. It had not been his intention to play the fool to deceive his retainers and relatives. With the death of his father, it had become his responsibility to defend the province from enemies on all sides. He had z this camouflage for safety's sake, even to the point of appearing to be a fool. He had convinced his relatives and retainers in order to deceive his enemies and their many spies. But all the while, Nobunaga studied human nature and the inner workings of society. Because he was still young, if he had shown himself to be an able ruler, his enemies would have taken countermeasures.

* * *

The head of the servants, Fujii Mataemon, came running in and called Tokochiro, who was resting inside the hut. "Monkey, come quickly."

"What is it?"

"You've been summoned!"

"Huh?"

"The master suddenly asked about you and ordered me to call you. Have you done anything wrong?"

"Nothing."

"Well, anyway, come quickly," Fujii urged him, and ran off in an unexpected direction. Something had set Nobunaga thinking that day as he inspected the storehpuses, kitchens, and the firewood and charcoal warehouses.

"I've brought him along." Fujii prostrated himself as his lord walked by. Nobunaga stopped.

"Ah, you've brought him?" His eyes stopped on the figure of Tokichiro waiting behind him.

"Monkey, come forward."

"My lord?"

"From today I'm appointing you to the kitchens."

"Thank you very much, my lord."

"The kitchens aren't a place where you can distinguish yourself with a spear , but rather than a glorious place on the battlefield, it is an especially important part of our defenses. I know I don't have to tell you, but work hard."

His rank and stipend were immediately raised. As a kitchen official, he was no a servant. Being transferred to the kitchens, however, was then considered shameful for a samurai and was thought of as a downward slide in one's fortunes: "He has finally wound up in the kitchens." Kitchen duty was held in contempt by fighting men, as a sort of refuse heap for men of little ability. Even the other household servants and the attendants of the samurai looked down upon an appointment to the kitchen, and to the younger samurai it was a place of no opportunity or prospect for advancement. Mataemon sympathized with him and comforted him.

"Monkey, you've been transferred to a duty of little account, and I imagine that you're not satisfied. But since your stipend has been increased, instead shouldn't you consider that you've advanced in the world a bit? As a sandal bearer, though the position is a low one, there are times when you work before the master's horse, and there is some hope of promotion. On the other hand, you might have to give up your life. If you're in the kitchens, you don't have to worry about that. You can't sell the cow and keep the milk too.

Tokichiro nodded and answered, "Yes, yes." But privately he was not in the least bit disappointed. On the contrary, he was very pleased that he had received an unhoped-for promotion from Nobunaga. When he started work in the kitchens, the first things that struck him were the gloom, damp, and filth. The down-at-heel men who prepared the meals, who never saw the sun even at noon, and the old head cook had worked without a break for years in the smell of seaweed broth.

This won't do at all, Tokichiro told himself gloomily. He could not stand to be in depressing places. How about cutting a large window in that wall over there, to let in air and light? he thought. But there was a way of doing things in the kitchen, and since the man in charge was an old-timer, everything was a problem. Tokichiro quietly checked how much of the dried fish was bad, and examined the supplies that the merchants brought in daily. After he was put in charge, the suppliers retained by the castle were soon much happier.

"Somehow, when I'm not shouted at all the time, I can't help but bring in better goods and lower my prices," said one merchant.

"Up against you, Master Kinoshita, a merchant is put to shame. Why, you know the going rate for dried vegetables, dried fish, and grains! You've got a sharp eye with the goods, too. It makes us happy that you're so clever at laying up a stock of goods so cheaply," said another.

Tokichiro laughed and said, "Nonsense, I'm not a merchant, so where's the skill or the lack of it? This is not a matter of my making a profit. It's simply that the goods you supply go to feed my master's men. Life comes from what one eats. So how much, then, does the survival of this castle depend on the food prepared in the kitchen? It's the object of our service to give them the best we can." From time to time he gave tea to his suppliers, and as they relaxed, he would explain things during the conversation.

"You're merchants, so every time you deliver a cartload of goods for the castle, you immediately think how much profit you're going to make. And while it's not likely that you'll lose out, what do you suppose would happen if our castle fell into the hands of an enemy province? Wouldn't long years of billing be lost in both principal and interest? And if a general from another province took the castle, the merchants that came along with him would take over your business. So if you think of the master's clan as the root, we, as the branches, will continue to prosper. Isn't this the way we should think of profit? Therefore, short-term profit on the supplies you bring to the castle is not in your long- term interest."

Tokichiro was also considerate to the old head cook. He asked for the old man's opinions even when matters were clear-cut. He obeyed him, even if it went against his own judgment. But there were those among his colleagues who spread malicious gossip wished to be rid of him.

"He's such a busybody."

"He sticks his nose into everything."

"He's a make-work little monkey."

When someone makes waves, he's bound to attract the resentment of others, so Tokichiro generally treated such gossip with indifference. His scheme for remodeling kitchens was approved by both the head cook and Nobunaga. He had a carpenter open a vent in the ceiling and cut a large window into the wall. The sewage system was also rebuilt following his plans. Morning and evening, the sun shone brightly into the kitchens of Kiyosu Castle, which for decades had been so dark that food was cooked by candlelight even at noon. A refreshing breeze also blew through.

He expected the grumbling:

"Food spoils easily."

"You can see the dust."

Tokichiro ignored these complaints. After that, the place became clean; if people saw waste, they reduced it. A year later, the kitchens had become a bright and airy place with a lively atmosphere, just like his own character.

That winter, Murai Nagato, who had until then been overseer of charcoal and firewood, was relieved of his post, and Tokichiro was appointed to succeed him. Why had Nagato been sacked? And why had he himself been promoted to the post of overseer of charcoal and firewood? Tokichiro considered both of these questions when he received posting from Nobunaga. Aha! Lord Nobunaga wanted to save more on charcoal and firewood. Yes, those were his orders last year, but it seems that Murai Nagato's style of economy did not please him.

His new duties took him all over the large castle compound, to all the places charcoal and firewood were used: in the offices, the rest huts, the side rooms, inside and out, wherever fires were built in the winter in the large hearths cut into the floors. Especially in servants' quarters and the barracks of the young samurai, charcoal was piled high in grates, as evidence of unnecessary expense.

"It's Master Kinoshita! Master Kinoshita's here!"

"Who's this Kinoshita?"

"Master Kinoshita Tokichiro, who's been appointed overseer of charcoal and firewood. He's making the rounds with a grim look on his face."

"Ah, that monkey?"

"Do something with the ashes!"

The young samurai hurriedly covered up the red coals with ashes, put what was black into the coal scuttle, and looked very pleased with themselves.

"Are you all here?" When Tokichiro came in, he squeezed his way in through the group and warmed his own hands over the hearth. "My unworthy self has been commanded to oversee charcoal and firewood supplies. I'd be grateful for your help."

The young samurai glanced at each other nervously. Tokichiro took up the large metal tongs that had been placed in the hearth.

"Isn't it cold this year? Covering up the live coals like this you can't keep warm by just heating your fingers." He dug up some red coals. "Shouldn't you be more generous with the charcoal? I understand that until now the amount of charcoal to be used in each room daily was fixed, but it's dreary to be economical with heat. Use it fully, please. Come to the storehouse and take as much as you need."

He went to the barracks of the foot soldiers and the attendants of the samurai, encouraging the use of plenty of charcoal and firewood by the people who, until then, had shrunk before the exhortations to economize!

"He's being awfully generous in his position this time, isn't he? Perhaps Master Monkey has let his sudden promotion go to his head. But if we follow him too much, we may get a scolding the like of which we've never had until now."

No matter how liberal he was, the retainers set their own limits.

The expenses for one year's firewood and charcoal at Kiyosu Castle exceeded one thousand bushels of rice. Huge amounts of timber were cut and turned into ashes every year. For the two years of Murai Nagato's tenure, there had been no savings at all. On the contrary, expenses had increased. Worst of all, his calls to economize only depressed and annoyed the retainers. The first thing Tokichiro did was to release the retainers from this oppression. He then went before Nobunaga and made the following proposal: "In the winter, the younger samurai, foot soldiers, and servants spend their days indoors eating, drinking, and idly chatting. Before economizing on charcoal and firewood, I would humbly suggest that Your Lordship take steps to correct these bad habits."

Nobunaga quickly gave orders to his senior retainers. They called together the head of the servants and the commander of the foot soldiers and discussed the peacetime duties of retainers: the repair of armor, lectures, the practice of Zen meditation, and inspection tours around the province. Then, most important, training in firearm and spear techniques, engineering projects in the castle and for the servants, when they had time, the shoeing of horses. The reason? Not to give them leisure. To a military commander, his samurai retainers were as dear as his own children. The bond between lord and retainers, who had pledged themselves absolutely, was as strong as that between blood relatives.

On the day of battle, these were the people who would give up their lives before his very eyes. If he did not hold them dear, or if that affection and benevolence were not felt, there would be no brave soldiers dying for him. Therefore, during peacetime it was very easy for a lord to be too generousagainst the day of battle.

Nobunaga had the daily routine strictly enforced, leaving his retainers no leisure time. At the same time, he made the serving women who looked after the housekeeping go through training and even practice being confined in a castle under siege, so that he established a daily regimen of no leisure from morning till night. This, of course, went for himself as well.

When Tokichiro was there, he would cheer up.

"Monkey, how have things been recently?"

"Good! I've seen the effect of your orders, but you have a way to go."

"It's still not enough?"

"There's still much more."

"Is something still lacking?"

"The way things are done in the castle has yet to be introduced among the towns-people."

"Hm. I see." Nobunaga listened to Tokichiro. His retainers always made bitter faes and looked askance at this. There were few examples of someone like Tokichiro, who, in such a short space of time, had risen from the servants' barracks to sitting in his lords presence, and even fewer cases of someone going before the lord and speaking his own recommendations. Naturally, they frowned as though this were the same as some outrageous act. Nevertheless, the yearly consumption of charcoal and firewood, which had been over a thousand bushels, was significantly reduced by midwinter.

Since the retainers had no spare time, they no longer idled around the hearth, wasting charcoal. Even when there was some leisure time, because the men were moving their bodies and continually exercising their muscles, fires naturally became unnecessary and fuel was only used in cooking. The fuel formerly used in one month was now enough last for three months.

Nevertheless, Tokichiro was not satisfied that he had carried out his duties to the fullest. The contracts for charcoal and firewood were awarded in the summer for the following year. At the head of a group of castle suppliers, he set out to make the annual survey, which until then had been a mere formality. The officials in charge had never gone beyond asking how many of this kind of oak were on this mountain, and how many of that kind on that mountain. With the suppliers acting as his guides, Tokichiro conscientiously took note of everything he saw. He believed he could understand the conditions on the farms and in the towns, but, lacking experience, he could not even guess how much fuel could be got from a single mountain. And he had to admit that the finer points of buying charcoal and firewood were beyond him.

Like other officials before him, he went through the motions of the survey, mumbling, "Hm, hm. Is that so? I see, I see." Following custom, the day ended with the suppliers inviting the official to a banquet at the house of a local magnate. Much of the time was spent exchanging small talk.

"Thank you for coming out all this way."

"We haven't got very much, but please make yourself at home."

"We hope you'll favor us with your custom in the future."

One after another, they flattered Tokichiro. Naturally, attractive young women served the sake. They were constantly beside him, rinsing his cup, refilling it, and offering him one delicacy after another. He only had to express a wish and it was fulfilled.

This is good sake," he said. He was in a good mood; there was no reason not to be. The perfume of the serving girls charmed his senses. "They're all beautiful," he said. Each and every one."

Does your honor like women?" one of the suppliers asked lightheartedly.

Tokichiro replied very seriously, "I like both women and sake. Everything in the world is good. But if you're not careful, even good things can turn against you."

"Please feel free to enjoy the sake and the young flowers, too."

"I'll do just that. By the way, you seem hesitant to talk business, so I'll break the ice. Would you show me the tree ledger for the mountain we were on today?" They brought it in for his inspection. "Ah, it's very detailed," he observed. "Are there no discrepancies in the number of trees?"

"None whatsoever," they assured him.

"It says here that eight hundred bushels were delivered to the castle. Can that much charcoal and firewood come from such a small mountain?"

"That's because demand was less than the year before. Yes, that's the amount from the mountain we surveyed today."

The next morning, when the merchants presented themselves to pay their respects, they were told that Tokichiro had gone off to the mountain before daybreak. They set off after him. When they caught up with him, he was supervising a group of foot soldiers and local farmers and woodsmen. Each man had a bundle of ropes cut to about a meter in length. They tied one length of rope to every tree. Knowing that they had started out with a given number of ropes, when they finished and did their calculations, they could count the total number of trees. Checking the number of trees against the figures in the ledger, Tokichiro suspected there had been an overcharge of almost one-third.

He seated himself on a tree stump. "Call the suppliers over here," he told one of his men.

The fuel dealers prostrated themselves before him, their hearts racing at the prospect of what was to come. No matter how many surveys of the mountains were conducted, the number of standing trees was not a fact that could be easily determined by an amateur, and, in fact, the overseers of fuel supplies had always taken the amount recorded in the ledger at face valueswallowed it whole, so to speak. Now the suppliers were faced with an official who was not going to be taken in.

"Isn't there a large discrepancy between the number in this ledger and the actual number of trees?"

They answered yes, but hesitantly and full of apprehension.

"What do you mean, 'yes? What's the reason for this? You're forgetting the many years you've reaped His Lordship's patronage. Aren't you being ungrateful, deceitful, and complacent, and isn't your sole interest in making a profit? It seems you've put your lies in writing and you've been greedy."

"Isn't that a bit too strong, your honor?"

"The numbers are different. I'm asking why. Judging from the records, only sixty or seventy bushels out of a hundred orderedthat's only six or seven hundred out of a thousand are actually delivered to the warehouses."

"No, well, er, with that sort of reasoning"

"Silence! There's no excuse for men who've been supplying fuel from these mountains to have engaged in this kind of huge deception year after year. If I am right, you're guilty of deceiving officials and defrauding the provincial treasury."

"We-we hardly know what to say."

"You could be convicted for what you've done and have all your possessions confiscated. However, former officials have also been guilty of neglect. I'll let it pass just this once but on the following condition: you must correctly state the number of trees. The figures you submit in writing had better correspond exactly with the facts. Is that clear?

"Yes, Your Excellency."

"There's one other condition."

"Your Excellency?"

"There is an old saying, 'if you cut one tree, you should plant ten.' From what I have seen on these mountains since yesterday, trees are felled every year, but virtually none are being planted. If this continues, there'll be floods and the paddies and other field at the foot of the mountains will be devastated. The province will be weakened, and when the province declines, you will be the ones to suffer. If you want to make real profits, if you hope for true wealth for your families and desire happiness for your descendants, shouldn't you first make your province strong?"

"Yes," they agreed.

"As a tax and a punishment for your greed, from this time forth, every time you cut down a thousand trees, you are, without fail, to plant five thousand seedlings. This is a strict order. Do you agree?"

"We're very grateful. If you will let us off on those terms, we swear the seedlings will be planted."

"I suppose, then, I should increase the delivery fee by five percent."

Later in the day, he informed the farmers who had helped him that he had ordered the reforestation. How much they would be paid for planting a hundred seedlings was yet to be decided, but he told them the expenses would most likely be borne by the castle. With that, he said, "Well, let's go back now."

Encouraged by Tokichiro's attitude, the suppliers were relieved. As they descended the mountain, they whispered among themselves, "What a shock! With this fellow around, you can't leave a moment unguarded."

"He's smart."

"It's not going to be easy income like before, but we won't lose out, either. Well make up for it, slowly but surely."

Once back in the foothills, the suppliers were eager to be on their way, but Tokichiro wanted to repay them for the previous night's entertainment. "We've finished our business. Join me for the evening, relax and enjoy yourselves," he insisted.

At a local inn, he treated them to a banquet, he himself getting pleasantly tipsy.

* * *

Tokichiro was happy. All alone, but happy.

"Monkey!" Nobunaga saidhe still sometimes called him that"you've been economical in the kitchen ever since you were put in charge of it. But sticking a man there is a waste. I'm promoting you to the stables."

Along with the new assignment came a stipend of thirty kan and a house in the quarter of the castle town set aside for samurai. This new favor brought a lingering grin to

Tokichiro's face. Almost the first thing he did was visit his former workmate Ganmaku.

"Are you free now?" he said.

"Why?"

"I want to go into town and treat you to some sake.

"Well, I don't know."

"What's the matter?"

"You're a kitchen official now. I'm still nothing but a sandal bearer. You don't want to be seen out drinking with me."

"Don't take such a warped view. If I thought that way, I would never have come to ask you. Being in charge of the kitchen was above my status, but the fact is, I've been ordered to the stables at a stipend of thirty kan."

"Well!"

"I came here because you're a true and loyal servant of His Lordship, even though you're only a sandal bearer. I want you to share this happiness with me."

"This is a matter for congratulations, surely. But, Tokichiro, you're more honest than I am.

"Huh?"

"You're open with me, concealing nothing, while I've kept a good bit hidden from you. To tell the truth, I sometimes do special services, like that time you know about. For these I receive large bonuses directly from the hand of His Lordship. I send the money seretly to my house."

"You have a house?"

"If you go to Tsugemura in Omi, you'll see I have a family and about twenty servants."

"Ah, you do?"

"So it's not an honorable thing for me to be entertained by you. Anyway, if we both rise in the world, one with the other, we'll both treat and be treated."

"I didn't know."

"Our fates lie ahead of usthat's the way I look at it."

"You're right, our fates are still ahead of us."

"Let's commit ourselves to the future."

Tokichiro felt even happier. The world was bright. Nothing before his eyes lay in darkness or shadows.

Tokichiro took pleasure in realizing that his new position involved a mere thirty kan, but this modest amount bespoke recognition of his two years as an official. The annual fuel expenditure had been reduced by more than half, but it was more than the reward hat made him feel good. He had been praised: "You've done good work. A man like you in a place like that is a waste." To be spoken to like this by Nobunaga was a joy he would not forget. Nobunaga was a general, and he knew how to speak to his men. Filled with admiration for his master, Tokichiro's elation was almost more than he could bear. Others night have mistaken him for a halfwit as, alone and grinning, his face now and again showing his dimples, he left the castle and roamed around Kiyosu. He was in a good nood when he was walking around town.

The day his duties changed, he was given five days' leave. He was going to have to

arrange for household goods, a housekeeper, and maybe a servant, although he assumed the house he had received was on a back street, had a nondescript gate, a hedge rather than a wall and no more than five rooms. It was the first time he had been the master of a house. He changed direction to go take a look at it. The neighborhood was inhabited solely by men who worked in the stables. He found the group leader's house and went to pay his respects. He was out, so he spoke with the man's wife.

"Are you still single?" she asked.

He admitted that he was.

"Well, that's a little inconvenient for you," she said. "I have servants here and extra furniture. Why don't you take what you need?"

She is kind, Tokichiro thought as he went out the gate, saying he would probably, one way or another, be relying on her fully. She herself came outside the gate and called to two of her servants.

"This is Master Kinoshita Tokichiro, who's just been given duties in the stables. He'll soon be moving into that vacant house with the stand of paulownia. Show him around, and when you have a moment, clean the place up."

Led by the servants, Tokichiro went off to see his official residence. It was bigger than he had imagined. Standing in front of the gate, he mumbled, "Well, this is a fine house."

On making inquiries, he found the previous tenant had been a man by the name of Komori Shikibu. A while had passed, it seemed, and the house was rather in disrepair, but in his eyes it was nothing less than a mansion.

"That stand of paulownia in back is auspicious, because the Kinoshita family crest has been a paulownia since the time of our ancestors," Hiyoshi said to the servant. He wasn't sure this was true, but it sounded right. He thought he had seen such a crest on his father's old armor chest or sword scabbard.

In the mellow mood he was in now, he would warm up to those around him, and if there was nothing of overriding importance, no necessity to have cool nerves, he would give in to his elation and his tendency to be talkative. Still, after the words were out of his mouth, he admonished himself for not being more judicious, not because his words came from ill will or fear, but because he himself did not attach any importance to the matter. Beyond that, he assumed it would spawn criticism that Monkey was a braggart. He might admit to himself, It's true; I am a bit of a braggart. Nevertheless, small-hearted, fastidious people who, because of his loquaciousness, harbored misconceptions about him or were prejudiced against him, were never to be his allies during his illustrious career.

Later he was seen in the bustling center of Kiyosu, where he bought furnishings. Then, at a secondhand clothing shop, he saw a coat, meant to be worn over armor, that bore a white paulownia crest. Tokichiro went straight in to ask the price. It was cheap. He quickly paid for it and just as quickly tried it on. It was a little large, but not unbecomingly so, so he kept it on as he continued on his way. The blue cotton was thin and rippled in the breeze as he walked and some rich-looking material, like gold brocade, was stitched only into the collar. He wondered who the wearer had been, the man who had the paulownia crest dyed in white on the back of the garment.

How I'd like to show this to my mother! he thought joyfully.

Right there, in the prosperous part of town, he was assailed by an almost unbearable

emotion. It went back to the pottery shop in Shinkawa. He was forced to recall what a miserable figure he had made, barefoot, pushing the handcart piled high with pottery past the staring men, the beautiful inhabitants of the town. He stopped by a dry goods store where high-quality woven goods from Kyoto lined the shelves.

"Please deliver this without fail," he admonished, putting down the money for his purchases.

Outside again, he noted it was always like this: after half a day of leisure, his purse was empty.

"Steamed Buns" proclaimed the magnificent sign with mother-of-pearl letters that hung from the roof at a street corner. These buns were a specialty of Kiyosu, in whose crowded shops travelers mingled with the locals.

"Welcome!" said a servant girl in a red apron. "Come in. Will you have some here, or buy some to take home?"

Tokichiro sat down on a stool and said, "Both. First I'll have one to eat here. Then I'd like you to deliver a boxand make it a big oneto my house in Nakamura. Ask the packhorse driver when he'll be making a trip up that way. I'll leave a tip to cover that."

A man with his back to Tokichiro was hard at work, but he seemed to be the owner of the shop. "Many thanks for your patronage, sir," he said.

"You seem to be doing good business. I was just now asking to have some buns sent to my home."

"Certainly, sir."

"It doesn't matter when, but I'll entrust this to you. Would you please put this letter in the box with the buns?" He handed the shopkeeper a letter from his sleeve. On the envelope was written, "To Mother, Tokichiro."

The shopkeeper took it and asked if it really wasn't urgent.

"No, as I said, it's not. Anytime is all right. Your buns have always been my mother's favorites."

While he was talking, he took a mouthful, and the taste of the bun brought a flood of memories and, very quickly, tears to his eyes. These were the buns his mother loved so much. He recalled the days of his youth, when he had passed by this place, yearning to buy some for her, and craving one for himself so keenly that a hand seemed to be coming out of his throat. In those days he could only push his handcart on with abject patience.

A samurai who had been looking in his direction finished off his plate of buns, stood up, and called, "Isn't it Master Kinoshita?" He had a young girl with him.

Tokichiro bowed deeply and with great courtesy. It was the archer Asano Mataemon. He had been kind to Tokichiro from the time he had been a servant and he was inclined to be especially polite to him. As the shop was far away from the castle grounds, Mataemon was relaxed and in high spirits.

"You're alone, eh?" he asked.

"Yes."

"Won't you join us? I'm with my daughter."

"Oh, your daughter?" Tokichiro looked toward where, a bench away, a girl of sixteen or seventeen rearranged herself to have her back to him, leaving exposed only the white nape of her neck, in the midst of this boisterous crowd. She was lovely. It wasn't that she

only appeared this way to Tokichiro, who was equipped with a sharply appreciative eye for beauty. Anyone would say the same; she was beautiful, no two ways about it, a woman far above the ordinary.

At Mataemon's beckoning, Tokichiro sat down before the possessor of those bright eyes.

"Nene," said Mataemon. It was a pretty name, which suited her character well. Wise eyes shone serenely in the midst of her finely formed features. "This is Kinoshita Tokichiro. He's recently been promoted from kitchen staff to duties in the stables. You shoul meet him."

"Yes, well" Nene blushed. "I'm already acquainted with Master Kinoshita."

"Eh? What do you mean, acquainted? When and where did you meet?"

"Master Tokichiro's sent me letters and presents."

Mataemon looked taken aback. "I'm shocked. Did you reply to his letters?"

"I've sent nothing at all in reply."

"That's all well and good, but not to show them to me, your father, is inexcusable!

"I told my mother each time, and she had the gifts returned, except those for special occasions."

Mataemon looked at his daughter, then at Tokichiro. "As a father, I'm always worried, but I was really careless. I didn't know. I had heard that Monkey was a shrewd man, but never imagined he would be interested in my daughter!"

Tokichiro scratched his head. He was very embarrassed, blushing a deep red. When Mataemon began to laugh, he was relieved, but still flushed. Even though he could not tell how Nene felt about him, he was in love with her.


Another Master | Taiko | Characters and Places