Somewhere north of the castle, Owari Province. The summer of 1545.
He walked up the hill, away from the camp they just set up right before the sun went down. All the way up here, he could not hear or see the camp below anymore. That was a good thing, wasn’t it? Nobody should know they were this close to Nagoya.
It was all dark, with the sky covered by a sea of clouds. There were almost no lights but the dim shaky one of the moon. Personally, he preferred the night with its silence and cool air. It felt like forever since the last time he spent on his own since he got stuck in this game. It wasn’t that he didn’t like it. In fact, he didn’t want to leave at all, for it boiled his blood, made him feel the thrill of the hunt again. He liked this kind of things, challenging and dangerous. And the fact that he couldn’t see how this end really fascinated him. But despite all his fondness for this ‘thing’, spending the whole day with his retainers were a bit too much. Besides devising a plan to get the clan out of its current situation, with full of enemies both from inside and outside of Owari’s border, he spent the whole day talking to some of his retainers about their clan. He wanted to talk to all of them, but with his preference which was one at a time, he’d probably need another day to put in his head a brief profile about all of his retainers. They were all surprised as he called for them to talk at first, but all of them opened up along the way. He didn’t know if it was necessary, but he always wanted to know as much as he could about the cards he had on hand. And he were asking people to die for him anyway. The least he could do was get to know them as well as he could, and improve their relationships. It was death they chose eventually. Or honor?
He lay himself on the ground full of grass and looked up at the sky above him. It felt good, as he could feel drops of dew seeped through the fabric of his shirt. This was too good for a summer night. For a moment, it was as if all his calculations about the clan’s situation had vanished. It was just him by himself then, without a thought, without a sound. He wished there was a way for him to capture all of this, not just all the look, but even the sound and the feel of it. He would probably draw it back later, for he especially like the ink they used in the Sengoku Jidai, but for now, he didn’t feel like it.
And he heard footsteps coming uphill towards his place.
“Crap, should it be a shinobi, I will get myself into trouble,” he thought as he stood up with both hands on the katana hanging by his side.
“M’lord Oda, it’s Haruki Midori. I thought I might find you here.” She replied with her soft sweet voice.
“Is there anything urgent? I thought I’ve told Ishimaru not to call for me up here unless there’s something important.” Ishimaru Akechi was the best and most trusted in Oda Nobuhide’s bodyguard, or for now he was James’ best. Peasants born, like most of the Oda retainers, Ishimaru was adopted in Nobuhide’s service when he was very young. He was educated in both literature and the art of bushido. Honor and glory wasn’t nobles’ only luxury. Lord Oda gave peasants born chances to write their names in history, as long as they had the will to do it.
“There’s nothing important m’lord. It’s just late, and I think you might want some bread and soup.” She bowed to him, again. It was a bit strange to him to see a girl with silk kimono in the middle of a military camp. But it was his idea to bring her to begin with, and probably because he was Oda Nobuhide, no one protested his idea. That was then he noticed a wooden basket Midori was holding. She shouldn’t have come with that. But that was the only reason she could conjure up to meet him, wasn’t it? Anyway, he was hungry now, just because of the smell of the soup in that basket.
“Thank you Haruki,” James nodded and retreated his hands from the katana. “Bring me those soup. I want to try them. And sit with me.”
“Do you miss your parents, Haruki? Home, I mean.” he asked as he tried the soup she brought him. It was well cooked, indeed. Or was it because he was hungry? It didn’t matter much to him, anyway. He just knew he like it. “By the way, who make this thing?”
“It is my fault m’lord. Please be mercy. I did not mean to displease you,” she bent all her body forward, her face almost hit the wet ground.
“Don’t get ahead of yourself like that Haruki. I like your soup. It’s good,” he chuckled, and soon choked. He heard her giggled, and somehow he liked it. For a moment, she was the purest light he’d ever seen, without any trace of darkness.
“M’lord, may I speak?”
“Yes you may,” he was curious about what she had in mind. He could see the reservation in her eyes.
“You’re different, m’lord.”
“Am I? Is it bad?” he laughed. Now he knew. She had realized the difference between the original Oda Nobuhide and him.
“Pardon me for my ignorant. I didn’t mean to offend you.”
“None given, and none taken,” he put the empty bowl back in Midori’s basket. “How different do you think?”
“You used to be more solemn, and distant. You had never talked privately with your retainers like you did previously. And you would never let any woman accompany you, especially not for a peasant born such as me.”
“Let’s say I changed,” he stood up and waited for Midori. “I think it’s time to go back. I think both of us can use some good sleep before marching at first light.”
“As you wish m’lord,” she walked behind him down the slope. “Pardon my intrusion m’lord, but I am curious about what changed you.”
“Let’s say I had lived long enough, and I just recognized many things, including I should treat my people better. Can you play the biwa?”
He could hear the wind whistled, and saw several shurikens surging towards him.
“Watch out,” he shouted at Midori and ducked the shurikens. But he wasn’t fast enough. One of them struck his upper arm. A stinging pain shot straight through his body. “Darn it,” he cursed himself. “I should have been more careful. This is the country of shinobis after all.”
He turned to check on Midori. She tripped, but she could use the wooden basket to take the shurikens for her. Sharp reaction, he had to admit.
“May I borrow your sword, m’lord?” she asked as she torn a side of her kimono dress to make a stance.
“You can fight?” he drew his second katana out of its scabbard and threw it at her.
“Just a bit, but yes m’lord,” she said while deflected another shurikens flying at her. James looked around. He couldn’t see those ninjas, but he could hear their footsteps. They were above them, and coming for them fast.
He heard her called “Above you,” as he saw a shadow dropped down above him. He was quick enough to evade the mortal aerial assassination and got up to have a sword fight with the assassin. Midori rushed to his aid but got halted by another ninja. A few more shadows showed up and joined the fight, but James couldn’t make out how many there were. They were outnumbered, but for some miracle, they didn’t die yet. He suffered several cuts on his weaker arms, yet no mortal blow. He had never thought he could fight like this. Either he was good, or the ninjas sucked badly. He worried about Haruki, but he could do naught. All he could do was hoping that his bodyguards would come to their aid soon if they could hear the sword fight.
And he heard Ishimaru’s familiar war cry, strong and resonating. The ninjas were caught off guard, leaving one vulnerable for a decapitation move from James. He slit one’s throat, and quickly dashed aside to pierce his katana through another’s heart. The rest of them tried to flee but quickly cut down by his bodyguards while two were captured alive by Kagesettsu Hitsune, another inner circle bodyguard of his. He saw Midori suffered a few cuts, but generally, she was unharmed.
“How did you know to come to my aid?” he asked Ishimaru on their way back to the camp.
“I was worried why you had not returned at that hour, so I led the bodyguards checking up on you. We just walked for a short moment, Kagesettsu heard swords clashing sound, so we thought you might be in danger.”
“When we get back to the camp, promote everyone 3 ranks, reward three hundreds gold and a ten rare silk roles. Everyone who are my bodyguards I mean. You and six other guys from my inner circle, get my advisers improve your strategies. I will check up on you frequently. As for Haruki Midori, you test her sword skill, and have her taught if needed be. She will be my bodyguards, and personal maid from now on. She’s relieved from other choir work. She’ll just fetch my order. And as for those two ninjas, separately torture the information of their masters out of them. Use all methods you can think of. Show them no mercy. Then cut of one’s head, and released the other. Send men secretly tail that man and confirmed the information.”
“Thank you m’lord.”
“You don’t have to thank me. You guys save my life eventually.”
“Can I still play the biwa for you tonight, m’lord?” Midori spoke up after a long way of silence. She had kept all the thoughts to herself since the attack. She was braver and stronger than any girl he had met. She didn’t even falter even at the face of death. Was it really her, or just her duty, he didn’t care much. It was still her, and for that, he cared for her.
“You are hurt. Can you still play?”
“Pain is nothing m’lord. Please allow me to play for you.”
“If that’s what you wish, then get your biwa and meet me in my tent.”
She just had enough strength to play three pieces for him, yet every piece felt like eternity. Each of them told its own story, and for some reason, he thought those were hers. Her melodies were soft, wet, and a bit sad. A young girl like her shouldn’t have bear such sorrow on her shoulders. And he thought he knew her.
“You asked me why I changed.”
“It was because when I look around, I saw no one,” he looked into her eyes.
“Now you see me, m’lord. These melodies I played for you tonight, I wrote it several months ago. They were separate stories, but together they created one unified melody, “Samishii.”
Author: Dat Le