Mikawa, Summer 1545
He leaned against a wall made up of wood and special paper, staring blankly at all the stacks of sheets of papers filling the other side of the room. He had been sleeping at the bottom of this sea of papers for a couple of days since he requested his retainers to gather all the reports for him. The coffee table was still where it was when he first saw it, standing still in the middle of the room, against the window pane and looking at the sliding door. Rene flicked the Bluetooth earphone in his right hand, his left resting on the grip of a katana sword. It used to be a simple pencil with which he could spin. Since a few days ago when James told him he was attacked by shinobis, Rene became a bit paranoid.
He heard a voice from outside. So far, he only remembered Inagi’s voice. Most of his retainers shared the same thick old accent that he couldn’t discern.
“What do you need?”
“You requested to be called at this time. It is now breakfast time.”
He looked outside the window. The sky bore a similar color to his room, a dark blue. The candle light was blown out long ago.
“Bring me Inagi and Kake, only if they are awake.”
“As you command.”
He closed his eyes, waiting for the footsteps to fade then sat behind the coffee table. He barely slept. He had been trying to cross check all the information from the reports provided by the retainers and from the game managing sheets. He liked those things, doing researchs and getting technical. But it was all too much and he realized he needed to take a break.
“My lord? You’ve called for us?”
Inagi and Kake came in. Kake brought with her a bowl of soup and a bowl of water on a tray. She put it down besides Rene then retreated to the door. She didn’t speak at all, except for those small Japanese sounds he took it for “yes”, “no” and “huh?”. Even when he asked her directly, she would speak so soft so little that eventually Inagi had to answer for her. For Inagi, it was a different story. Rene felt like he could get closer to this man.
“Kake, thank you for your service. If you may, please, go back to studying writing and reading. I will ask for you when I need.” And just that, she bowed gracefully and left, leaving her brother with him.
“They woke you two up, didn’t they?”
“No, my lord. We were up even before you called for us.”
“You liar.” Rene grinned. “Ok, tell me where were we yesterday?”
“Yes, my lord.” He approached the coffee table and sat on the other side, across from Rene. “Yesterday, we rode from here to here, just south of the local Okubo stable. The next village in our plan should be right next to it. The house of Nadaira is the representative of the village under your samurai Kikoite’s control, helping about fifty people in the village.”
“We will depart in half an hour. After that, I want to visit your daily training with the samurais. For now, let me rest and you can take my katana to practice.”
“As you command, my lord.”
Rene put the tray on the table after making some space. Their routine had been like this, Inagi practiced swinging sword in front of Rene while he had his breakfast. Then they would head out to visit the local farms, checking out the castle and head back to the study room. This routine, to Rene’s understanding, was out of place as the “old” daimyo, whoever he was, didn’t do it. He would just stay in the castle courtyard or the courtroom and did his thing there. Meeting with peasants were some sort of a forbidden act. However, Inagi liked this routine. In fact, Rene had a feeling Inagi particularly liked his getting close to the people so much that he had trust in Rene, the kind of trust that turned him into a confidente. Thanks to that, Rene could ask him to do a few things without being seen as odd or crazy like, teaching Rene to ride a horse, parring with him, things that the head of a clan and a samurai must have known already. Rene even went so far as to test the existence of all the gaming stuffs. He was worried if the people could see all his gaming things like the sheets of paper written in English, the earphone and the iPad. But apparently, they couldn’t perceive those things, not being able to see or feel them.
“Ok, it’s time.”
“Yes, my lord.”
Half an hour later, the two of them and another two samurais arrived at the paddy fields. It wasn’t really far from the castle but Rene was struggling to sit tight on the horse. They got off and walked on the mud road in between the fields. There were a handful of farmers working around, all of who looked up whenever Rene was close enough. Apparently, the local had spreaded the words and they knew he was watching.
“My lord, Hatama Nadaira, representative of the local.” One of the samurai announced. Rene greeted the middle-aged man bowed down before him.
“Walk with me Hatama. How is your family?”
“My lord, they…they are splendid my lord.”
“And how is your village? Are you all having enough to eat?”
“Yes, my lord. We have enough and are working hard.”
“And how is my retainer, ehm, Kokoite?”
“It’s Ki-ko-i-te, my lord.” Inagi rushed up and whispered to his ear.
“Yeah, how is my man, Kikoite? Is he treating you well? Is he asking for more than he needs?”
“My lord… he is treating us well. He has given us plentiful.”
Rene sighed. They had walked to the end of the road where a small house sat, probably a place for the farmers to rest. The group stopped there. Only Rene sat down while the rest of the men stood.
“You two, secure the back and patrol the site, make a circle and make sure anyone suspicious within the perimeter are reported to me.”
“Perimeter, my daimyo?”
“Within your sight.”
“As you command.”
The samurais left the three men behind.
“I want you to answer me truthfully, Hatama. I will reward you if I like what I hear. But if I don’t, you know what will happen.”
“Yes, my lord.” The man bowed down to his feet, fear took over him.
“Do you have children?”
“A son and a daughter. Please, my lord spare my children.”
“Easy now, I’m not finished. How old are they?”
“My boy is thirteen and the daughter is six. He is working on the field over there.”
“How much do they have for a meal?”
“Answer me. Be honest.”
“Just half a bow each, sometimes my son gives his share for his sister.”
“And you? And your wife? How many meals do you have a day?”
“…Just one, my lord. In the evening. My children won’t eat if we don’t.”
“And in the morning?”
“We lie that we have it.”
“How’s the fieldwork? Are you not harvesting enough?”
“We barely made enough last harvest. The field has given us enough, my lord. We are just greedy folk.”
“I see. Then do you know why I’m here?”
“To ask us questions, my lord. And to see if we are doing our best.”
“And who tell you that? The other villages? Your friends?”
“Lord Kikoite, my lord. He has warned us that if we are lazy we will be punished by my daimyo. Please, my lord, we are just lowlife folk, please spare us.”
“Have I once mentioned doing something to you? Don’t worry, I’m liking what I’m hearing. Do you know if your farm is the first that I visit?”
“No, my lord. I don’t know.”
“Do you or any of your villagers travel to neighboring village?”
“Not a lot, my lord. Sometimes Yatano might go north if he wants to read something.”
“Yatano? Who he is?”
“One of my friends, my lord. He reads and writes so sometimes I ask him to help the common folk.”
“What does he think of the Kikoite?”
“No, that probably wouldn’t work. Well, I think I’ve heard enough. Thank you, Hatama. And here is your reward.” Rene signaled Inagi to give the man a few coins and a piece of cloth from his satchel. “Make something good for your daughter. Now go back to whatever you were doing. And do not talk to the retainer about what I asked. Just tell him I warned you not to be lazy and not to beg for anything, if he asked. If you don’t do what I tell you to right now, I will kill you.” He finished with a smile, making the man bowed out of fear. Sweat dropped from his cheek. The two walked off, leaving the man who wouldn’t lift his head.
“My lord, permission to speak.”
“How many times have I told you that when there are just us two, or with your sister, you don’t have to talk to me that politely?”
“My lord, may I speak?”
“Better, what is it?”
“What is your purpose doing these trips?”
“To get to know the local, haven’t I told you this already?”
“You asked the same questions yesterday and the day before that.”
“Nothing, my lord.”
“Just speak freely, didn’t I say I won’t kill?”
“What about that with Hatama?”
“He’s a good man, a little fear will imprint in him what kind of a man I am.”
“And what is that, my lord?”
“A confusing one.”
“You speak strangely, my lord.”
Rene just laughed it off.
“But you didn’t press on and ask about the retainer like you did yesterday?”
“Hatama isn’t like the others we have met. He is an honest man, too honest at that.” Rene signaled the two patroling samurais to return to the horse.
“I don’t understand, my lord.”
“You don’t have to, for now.”
“Understood. Then why are you keeping me around? I’m not fit for either a bodyguard or an advisor.”
“Is that what the Matsudaira house told you?”
“No, my lord.”
“You have something that I need, and I can’t find that in the others.”
“You speak strangely, my lord.” Inagi slightly lowered his head. They reached the horse and Rene tried to get on the horse while they both waited for the samurais. But before he could, he stopped and stood on the ground, seeing a group of samurais approaching him. The man leading the group stopped first, got off the horse and did the formality before he spoke.
“My lord, why are you here at this time? You are supposed to meet with the court to prepare the Imagawa daimyo’s visit.”
“I have not heard of this visit, when did the courier arrive at my castle?”
“Just hours ago when you were still sleeping, my lord.”
“And the message went to you instead of me. Very well, tell me the detail on the way back.” Rene signaled Inagi to help him get on the horse. The group rode back to the castle and Rene struggled to keep up the pace.
“When will he be here? How many men will be in his entourage?”
“It said in the message that he will be here next week with two hundred men strong.”
“Do we know what he wants?”
“It said he wants to check up on our situation as their clan’s vassal.”
“Is there anything else? What about their standing army stations at our border?”
“I don’t know, my lord. Our samurais station nearby report that they are standing by.”
“Is there anyone else in his entourage that I need to be aware of?”
“I don’t know, my lord. The message didn’t include such detail. But the message also included a purpose of the visit. Their lord wants to discuss matters about the Oda clan.”
“What do you think of the Oda clan, Hidenaga?
“I don’t understand your question, my lord.”
“Are they our enemy?”
“If their daimyo demands, they are, my lord.”
“And if not?”
“They still are.”
“And if I command that we shall not make war?” Rene put on a serious face.
“They still are, my lord.”
“Straightforward, I like it. What about the Imagawa clan?”
“I dare not speak, my lord.”
“Very well then, I have heard enough. When we arrive at the castle, gather the court and we will meet in an hour. I will be in my study room, call me when it’s time.”
“As you command.”
The rest of the ride went with complete silence, mostly because Rene found it too painful to sit on a horseback that long.
Author: Minh Vu