Somewhere south of the castle, Owari Province, summer of 1545.
Lightning cracked open the sky looming with dark clouds. It was only midafternoon, but it looked as if it was late in the evening, when the sun had already gone behind the horizon.
Thunder echoed from afar. Drums beat fast. Dust stirred beneath their feet.
Not from his army. Not from this one, hiding under the dark wings of the forest.
He could see their banners bearing the Oda’s sigil outside Nagoya castle, a small army, but big enough to overwhelm the garrison he left behind those mud walls. It wasn’t his banners. It wasn’t his army. A rebellion they said, but for him, it was a family feud. A family tragedy. Or at least, that was for Oda Nobuhide. For James, now that was his real name, well, for some reason he still felt something sad for the other guy who was leading that army. His brother. No, Oda Nobuhide’s brother.
“M’lord, our men are ready.”
“Good. Wait for my signal.”
He looked at the sky. A summer storm was gathering somewhere outside the bay, and brought the clouds here. A great fortune, if his timing was right. He thought he saw that when he was in the cherry garden. Three days ago, with a girl they called Haruki. There was no cherry blossoms. But he had found something more beautiful than cherry blossom.
Five centimeters per second, he thought he learnt that somewhere.
He saw the faraway army marching towards the castle with banners flying in the air. Now was that a poetic scene?
An army was marching towards glory,
Towards faith, towards honor,
He thought he could see trickles of sweat rolling down their faces. He thought he could hear their breath full of eager, as they were marching to take an empty castle. Just almost empty in fact, but empty or almost, it made no difference.
A lightning struck a tree somewhere in another forest around Nagoya, casted a long and sharp shadow of the castle upon the battlefield for a split second when the bolt was at its brightest.
A thunder cried out from the sky, resonating all across every single living thing. He could feel his horse breathing faster, her footsteps uneased.
He looked at his men behind him. They all were looking at him. And he saw her, in purple and gold armor. That girl they called Haruki. He called her Haruki too. But he always preferred Midori. His personal maid. His trusted bodyguard. She saw that sky too.
He raised the green fan, and then it was their drums beating proudly1. His army marching out from the forest’s darkness, ranks by ranks, with dust in the air. He led the march towards the rebellion, the younger Oda brother, with his bodyguards beside him. With her beside him. He looked powerful, and proud, just as a daimyo should look like2. He looked happy, just as a man should look like, standing side by side with his friends, fighting or die trying for something he believed in.
Just as they were a bit away from arrow shooting range, he called forth his archers to rain their arrows on the rebellion. Under that rain of arrows, his yari ashigaru’s3 divisions hastened their steps, from a quick march turned into a charge, a charge into the enemy’s rank, into darkness, into death…
He stood behind the archer ranks with his reserved army to observe the skirmish. He was waiting, waiting for what he saw three days ago. ‘I saw the sky too,’ that what he told Midori. There was something more.
Another thunder broke out, shook the battlefield at its wake. For James’ army, thunder was their battle cry, as he had told them the night before. The cloud was their messenger, and the storm was their protecting god. With the call of their daimyo, the god stood by their ranks, and empower them to overcome their enemies.
And rain poured down onto the battlefield as the first clash between metals burst out on the battlefield full of grass and life. It turned the sky into a whiteout, a whiteout of water. They couldn’t maintain their vision on the skirmish anymore. The rain was too heavy. The dirt was too wet.
And he flipped his fan sideway, pointed it forward, heading towards the enemy.
The drums hastened, as his horse and that of his bodyguards from a stop turned into a trod then into a charge. He and his men charged through the rain of water and arrows, tramping on dirt wet with water, sweat, and blood, heading for the enemy’s flank.
In the rain, they were no longer human. They turned into shadows, ghosts, mysterious entities that rushing forward without fear shouting their battle cry. They charged through the ranks of their enemies, with swords and spears thrusting and slashing, and tears and blood mixing into the rain and seeping into the muddy ground.
He could see her on her white horse by his side, brave as a warrior she was, slashing her blade into the enemies. She was riding side by side with him, shouting his name, and probably thinking about him… as he was thinking about her…
She was too beautiful.
Like a jewel.
The last time he opened his eyes, there was nothing?
When he opened his eyes, this time…
“How many men did we lose?”
“Around fifty men m’lord. They all soon surrendered as soon as you killed their leader.” One of his retainer said as they were returning to Nagoya castle.
“Make sure those men families are taken care of. As for the captives, ask if anyone of them want to follow me. Scatter those want to fight for me among the divisions, and send those don’t want to fight home. Share the land once belonged to my brother among Aizu, Tomishide, Hatake, Maeda and Kizuki clans. They all fought well alongside me this time.”
“Thank you m’lord. You are too kind for us,” leaders of those clans bowed at him for his rewards. He still remembered their complaints about being ill-treated by bigger clans, like the Takayama or Akechi. The Takayama of the bay, and the Akechi of the north were the biggest clans in Owari, whose influence bothered James even though he was their liege lord.
“You’re welcome. As for the Akechi and Takayama, reward each of them two thousand koku4. They have also fought bravely by my side.” He looked at those two, one of them was his commissioner of warfare. Takayama Muneyori. That guy had followed him long enough, since he became daimyo at the age of thirty. Fifteen years of service, that was something he needed to pay attention too.
“Thank you m’lord,” he heard Takayama replied, and Akechi echoed in. James was glad, as long as he had their loyalty.
“Now my lords, where did we stop the last time we talked about the Tokugawa?”
“You said you will call for a truce, m’lord.”
“Yes I did. And your opinion?”
“They are our enemies, m’lord. We’ve been fighting them for more than ten years. Peace is unacceptable,” Takayama told him. “I’d rather die fighting them than dine on the same table with those haughty Tokugawa. They thought they had a royal heritage, so they always looked down on us. You don’t have to lower ourselves and beg for peace from those bastards. They will look down on us even more.”
“So what do you think about the Saito in Mino Province?”
“They are our enemies too, m’lord. They didn’t respect you, m’lord, but at least they didn’t have the royal heritage boast.” Akechi Matsude angrily said. His generals always had something against the name Tokugawa. It was like a taboo within this land called Owari.
“That is the reason we’ve been fighting with both of them for more than ten years. With enemies at two front, we couldn’t do anything to any of them, for as soon as we leave Owari to take down one for good, the other will march straight for Nagoya. We cannot take them head on without our full force. Both Tokugawa Hirotada and Saito Dosan are experienced generals. You all know that. We must peace with one to get rid of the other for good.”
“But m’lord, why don’t we sue for peace with Saito Dosan? At least he isn’t as annoying as that Hirotada.” Maeda Toshimasa protested. Apparently no one liked the idea of peace with the Tokugawa.
“He’s not annoying. But do you trust him?”
“Of course not m’lord. He’s our enemy, and he’s ambitious.”
“Lord Maeda speaks the truth,” Takayama agreed. “But I’d rather peace with that one than Tokugawa. He’s unbearable.”
“If we sue for peace with the Saito, we will have to confront the Tokugawa, and not only them, but the Imagawa also. Imagawa Yoshimoto is not easy to take down, and do my lords believe with our situation right now, we can take both of them head on? We are outnumbered at least three to one, and who can guarantee that Saito Dosan would not stab us in the back while we are sieging Okazaki castle5?”
“Taking risk is part of this war we are fighting m’lord. And don’t you trust us? We can defeat the Tokugawa and Imagawa even we are outnumbered by ten to one.”
“You say it true, lord Hatake, but I will not take risk when not necessary. And the risk you are talking about is your own family. I do not want to risk our family, your family, my lords. And I am not underestimate you generals. I believe if we are in a defense position to defend our home, we can totally defeat an army ten times greater than ours. That’s the power of our clans. But we are in an aggressive war. If I am Imagawa Yoshimoto, I can just deploy my troops to block the only road to Suruga Province and wait for the enemy to come. It will take us months to get past that, and by the time we get back, Saito Dosan would already put our family heads on pikes outside Nagoya.”
“But m’lord Oda…” they all spoke up in protest. At least there was something they all agreed on, he thought.
“I don’t want to peace with the Oda myself, but at times like this, we need to make hard decision. We cannot let our feelings cloud our judgement. I don’t say I want peace with the Tokugawa for good. It will just for a short time when we take Gifu castle of Saito clan. Then, we will march south. I believe with our power, we can take down Saito Dosan within a year and then resume our march to Okazaki. I do not want peace with the Tokugawa. I hate them just as much as you do. But we need to stall them, for now. And if we take Mino for now, we can open trade routes with Hida, Echizen, and Omi Provinces. We can improve our financial basis before our great war with the Tokugawa – Imagawa alliance. Just within a year, my lords, you will have your anger pour all over both of them, the Saito and the Tokugawa. Does that sound good to you, my lords?”
“That is a good move, m’lord.” His retainers might agree with this temporary peace with the Tokugawa right now, but he would need something to change the mind of his retainers. Rene was his only true ally in this campaign to take over Japan, but too bad their clans had a family feud. If he couldn’t change his followers’ mind and they wouldn’t listen to him when they officially form an alliance, he wouldn’t have any other choice but to eliminate them all.
“M’lord, welcome home!” His wife led the court James left at Nagoya castle to welcome him.
“You are too kind m’lady. Are you doing well?” he dismounted and followed his wife and the entourage into the castle. His men bowed behind him and all but his bodyguards left to their assigned positions. Ishimaru Akechi led the group followed him quietly.
“I am fine, m’lord. I’ve been playing the biwa waiting for you to come back. I heard you took interest in music recently.”
“You do have sharp ears m’lady,” he laughed. The story Midori sang for him in the camp somehow made it out to his wife’s hearing. Now this situation was interesting. Then he turned to the entourage.
“Thank you my lords and ladies for welcoming me back. I am quite tired after the battle, so you can resume your duty now.”
“Aye, m’lord.” They all bowed and left him with lady Tsuchida and his sons.
“Ishimaru, the Eight will stay with me. Send men to summon lord Maeda to my chamber now.” He ordered as his bodyguards moved to their positions.
“At once, m’lord,” he bowed and rushed away.
“Should Nobunaga and Nobuyuki stay with us?” lady Tsuchida asked as his ‘sons’ waiting behind her.
“Yes they should. They are old enough to start learning about politics. Especially Nobunaga. He is a smart one. And I have words with them as well,” he looked at his oldest sons and smiled.
“Thank you father,” they followed him, accompanied by James’ inner circle bodyguards to the daimyo’s study chamber.
“How were the retainer when I was away? Anyone who had the thought to open the castle gate for my brother?” he asked now that they were alone.
“Not openly, m’lord. But I have gathered information on those who had the intention to betray our family,” he looked at the list lady Tsuchida gave him. It wasn’t a short one truth be told.
“What do you suggest to deal with these traitor?”
“I suggest arrest them all, then execute them, m’lord.” Kagesettsu Hitsune answered. “We couldn’t afford to let them live. They might even try to assassinate my lord one day.”
“True enough, but we have no evidence, don’t we?” Hatake Kage, another of his bodyguard spoke up.
“M’lord, lord Maeda is here.”
“We will discuss this matter later,” he told his inner circle as they bowed and retreated to the inner chamber. All but his eldest son, Nobunaga stayed with him.
“M’lord called for me?”
“Yes. I want to discuss your son’s future, Maeda Toshiie.”
“Did he bother you somehow, m’lord? I will go back and teach him a lesson.”
“No he didn’t. He is, however, a very brilliant young man. I want to raise him by my oldest son, Nobunaga, so they can be best friends. Nobunaga is my heir and will inherit this clan once I pass away. I want Toshiie to help Nobunaga fighting the future war, as you are doing with me right now.”
“You are too kind m’lord. Maeda clan will fight until the last breath for you and your cause,” he bowed before James’ offer, with his face just millimeters to the tatami mat.
“You have served our clan well, lord Maeda. You deserve rewards. Now if you agree to my offer, starting tomorrow, Toshiie will still stay with you in town, but study bushido and art with Nobunaga. The Heir’s teacher will also be Toshiie’s teacher. The Heir will be his friend. I hope they get along well, like you and I.”
“I hope so too, m’lord. Now if I may, I will bring this good tiding home.”
“Yes you may, lord Maeda. I bid you a good day.”
“Thank you, m’lord.”
“What are you planning with that Toshiie so close to me?” his son asked him as lord Maeda had disappeared behind the exterior doors.
“I’m securing a potential great retainer for you. That Toshiie is a brilliant boy, and it’s better for you to have him as friend than enemy. And also, remember everyone in the room talked to me previously. They will be the ones protecting you once I’m gone. I might not be able to unite Japan, but you can. I’m too old for that now. Remember that.”
“Yes, father.” They stood by the window, looking at the small figure leaving the castle. That probably was Lord Maeda running back to his family.
“What do you think I should do to those traitors you heard we discuss?”
“Kill them all, father. Kill them all.”
- In the Sengoku Jidai Era, the generals usually used a hand fan made of bamboo to carrying out pre-designated orders. For example, in this case, ‘raising the fan’ means all divisions march towards the enemy.
- We should have explained a bit more about these weird Japanese names in the previous parts, but for some reason we forgot. Sengoku Jidai, the period of Japanese history we were writing here, means Warring States Period in English, or I’d prefer a more poetic name, the Age of the Country at War. Back then, the official leader of Japan was the Emperor, but he was marginalized and all the power belongs to the Shogun, the most influential and powerful general. In Sengoku Jidai, the local clan leaders, or as they called daimyos, were fighting a series of clan wars for this position. The official one in the history started at about 1567 – 1603, but our story took place a bit earlier than that (actually 22 years earlier). We began the story with the Oda and Tokugawa clans, one of the greatest clans at that time, with the father generation of those who later made history.
- There are several kinds of soldiers in feudal Japan. Ashigaru was the lowest ranks, consisted of peasant foot soldiers. They were peasants conscripted to fight their lords’ war. This was the main composition of the clans’ armies during this period. Yari was a kind of straight headed traditional Japan spear.
- Koku was Japanese ancient unit to measure rice. One koku equal the amount of rice enough for a person per year.
- Capital of Tokugawa clan.
Author: Dat Le