Mikawa, the summer of 1545
Rene was quick to learn and quick to adapt. He might not excel in most of the things he did but he always managed to catch up and become an average in everything he did. It wouldn’t be a thing to be proud of for an average person but not him. And for this particular moment, he was both proud of and thankful for this trivial ability.
“My lord, with all due respect, we demand an answer. You have promised us ten thousand kokus within a year and five thousand ashigarus when the leaves fall but we have been told that you are doing nothing to prepare such promises.”
A man from Rene’s audience stepped forward and kneeled down before him. His audience was old men, clan masters and samurai retainers that ran the province under his command. A province was home to many small clans united under a banner he was carrying and these clans made up most of the economy and military might for the province. The clan masters were, in a sense, equivalents of both House of Representatives congressmen and regional chief of police department. The retainers, on the other hand, served similar to a presidential administration. With such an audience working with him, Rene found himself amazed at what kind of position he was in and what kind of things he could do. ‘It’s a shame I cannot put this in my resume.’
“I understand your concern but I have my own plan. I made a promise and I will keep it. Not until the day I fail might you have your anger vented. Have my answer satisfied you?”
“It has, my lord.” He backed down, only to be replaced by another man. They sat on his left, forming a line full of clan masters sitting neatly in a straight line. On the other side, across from an aisle leading straight from the courtroom door to Rene’s seat was another line made up of the retainers.
“Then, my lord, please allow my turn to speak up.”
“I speak on behalf of all the northern clans. Words from our trusted servants sent troublesome news of an attack from the Oda clan. Our people are suffering from starvation and poverty. We cannot feed nor defend ourselves from the coming storm. Please, help us my lord.”
“Your wish has been duly noticed. I will devise a plan as soon as possible. For now, let me hear all the concerns you have.”
Rene adjusted his composure. Despite having some make up understanding of the Japanese culture from playing games, there were certain things he simply couldn’t learn quickly. Kneeling down to sit was one of those things. Having these clan meetings was another. He was never a leader.
“Thank you, my lord, may I be excused.”
“Granted. Who else has a word to say?”
“I am, my lord. I speak on behalf of the clans from the south, bordering the Imagawa clan. We also have heard of a threat of attack from the neighboring clan. We have an army prepared but it comprised of militia. Should the Imagawa attack with all its might, we will fall for sure. That would be all, my lord.”
“Noticed. You may excuse yourself. Next?”
“All the clans have spoken. May you listen to your last retainer’s heed, my lord?” A man from the other line moved to the front and kneeled down.
“Our recruiting and training are being slowed down. Due to recent threats of attack, most of the capable samurais are to relocate and hold the outposts at the border. In addition, there is news of a rebel group in a coastal village recruiting. As of now, their motives and strength are unknown to us but my agents are already investigating. I understand your hatred against practicing clandestine act but trouble times call for troubling actions. I sincerely request your approval for the matter, seeing how effective my agents will help.”
“Understood and noticed. Anyone else has anything to say?”
He bowed and returned to his seat. Everyone else bowed simultaneously.
“I dismissed you all then. Thank you.” He added, noticing a glance coming from all members of his audience.
After a lengthy and complicated formality to dismiss the court, Rene finally escaped to his room, a safe haven from all the alien culture and lives. But before he could do anything, he heard a knock on the sliding door.
“My daimyo, may we…”
“Come in.” He spoke, not letting the stranger finish. Entered a maiden and a young man. Rene, sitting behind the coffee table with all his sheets of paper, observed and examined the pair. They both looked young, younger than his court earlier but they should be years older than him. They shared something in their figures, a hint of similarity other than their slim and delicate builds.
“Who are you?”
“My daimyo, my name is Ianagi Takechiyo and this is my sister, Kake. We are instructed by clan master Matsudaira to stay and serve my daimyo to prove the clan’s loyalty and honor to your cause. Your retainers instruct us to come and pay our respect to you before getting assigned.” They bowed with rhythm right after the brother spoke. He seemed protective as expected of a sibling.
“How old are you?”
“…My lord, I am twenty two and my sister is eighteen.” He lowered his head and she wouldn’t look up.
“How old do you think I look?”
“My lord? I do not dare to speak against your will.”
“I’m not going to force a capital punishment because of an answer.” Rene added once he saw the confused look. “I promise you two will be treated well but answer me that.”
“My lord, it is an odd question I do not dare answer for anyone but myself. You look as strong as a man in his spring.”
“What did you do under the command of the Matsudaira clan?”
“I was a retainer apprentice in lord Matsudaira’s ruling retainers. I learned to write and helped with the paper in the court. My sister… she is his lord’s personal…maiden.”
“Wait, I thought all men at your age are learning to become a samurai?”
This wasn’t the first time in hours he had received this kind of confused glance.
“My lord, we are of peasant blood. We do not owe the honor to become a samurai.”
“Then why do you want to serve in the Matsudaira clan?”
“…It is a display of my bloodline’s loyalty, my lord.” Rene felt a hint of hesitation.
“Ok, what’s her name? Oh, Kake, from now on, you will be my personal servant. You and your brother will have a separate room next to mine so that whenever I call for you two, you must answer immediately. You have my word that I will treat you both with dignity. Inagi, you will stay by my side and serve as my retainer. You will answer truthfully with all your understanding what I ask when I ask. And learn how to use a sword. Go get one of my retainers to teach you how. Inagi, get over here, write what I just said down and bring it to whoever is in charge of running the castle. Once you settle down, come back here. For Kake, do as you please.”
Upon hearing Rene’s word, the siblings were obviously stunned. They looked at each other and hesitated, only to bow down gratefully once Rene signaled them to move. Inagi then walked to his side at the table, wrote what he was instructed to, waited for Rene to put down some sort of a sign then left the room with his sister, not after bowing down again.
‘Finally, I’m alone.’ Rene sighed. He put down the Bluetooth earphone and rubbed his ear. He used to have his earphones on him all the time but back then it was music that went to his ears, not fast and weird Japanese accents. But he soon had to pick it up again. It rang.
Author: Minh Vu