Mikawa, Autumn 1545
“You summoned me, my lord?” Rene nodded slightly to a man seated in front of him. Behind him, his entourage kneeled down, performing the formality to the same man he was addressing.
“Indeed, Hirotada. Come inside, let us talk.” Imagawa Yoshimoto, the daimyo of the clan to which Rene’s clan had pledged allegiance, gestured him to follow him inside the central tent. Rene, as Tokugawa Hirotada, and his entourage were visiting the Imagawa encampment, which was an hour ride from the Okazaki castle, the administrative central and current house of the Matsudaira clan. The Imagawa envoy had been here for nearly two weeks and all Yoshimoto had done was visiting the court and having fun with the Tokugawa’s servant. This summon was out of place. It was pouring rain, the entourage was kneeling and standing in the Imagawa camp’s central road while the clan’s men watching and mocking under shelter. It pained Rene but the situation demanded his compliance for his clan was the Imagawa’s vassal at the time.
“My lord, please allow my men to seek shelter.” He spoke humbly, kneeling in front of Yoshimoto who was now sitting behind his table.
“They are samurais, not petty peasants. A little rain can’t hurt them. Or if you are so concern about them, you should have come alone.” The foreign daimyo replied with a cheeky smile on his face.
“Forgive me for my request. Please, inform me of what has brought me the honor to address my lord.”
The Imagawa entourage, following their daimyo to the Mikawa province, was five thousands men strong, three thousands of which were samurais armed and trained for long battles. Although the official reason for this visit was diplomatic, the envoy said otherwise. Perhaps this was why Yoshimoto refused a chamber in Rene’s castle. Besides this army, Rene constantly received report of the Imagawa main army of more than ten thousands men, not counting attendants, stationing at the border. They outnumbered what he had then two to one. All that he had that kept this army from storming his clan was the vassal status, which he feared was about to end.
“The Oda clan has been recruiting men and raising their army. For long, they have been the thorns in our eyes. I sense their time is coming to an end, don’t you think?”
“What do you have in mind, my lord?”
“With our combined army, our number surpasses them greatly. And they are facing the Saito clan in the northern front. If we are to move against the Oda when the Saito do so, we will create a pincer threat eliminate the Oda threat once and for all.”
“And when will that be, my lord?”
“The Saito will, soon. But if necessary, we will have to give them a push.”
“And that is, my lord?”
“You will bring every men you have in this province and march straight to the Nagoya castle. Saito Dosan is a good general, he will recognize his moment and march his men from across the river. Once he does, I will command my army to reinforce you at the front, where we will meet and slain Oda Nobuhide himself.”
“Winter is coming. With all due respect, I fear it would be wise to wait until the harsh time passes and the spring comes, my lord.” Rene bowed slightly.
“Nonsense, we must strike now, before the snow falls. The longer they have, the stronger their army grows. We must deny them the chance.”
“Simple sabotages and skirmishes will slow their recruitment. They will not grow, you have my words. But if we are to strike now before the winter comes, the Saito may hesitate and my men will die for nothing.” That said, he knew for sure it was Yoshimoto’s plan to have the Tokugawa weakened. Thus, he had to continue his offense. “And once my men have fallen, there will be nothing to stand between the Oda and your mighty clan. It will be an easy victory for your greatness, Imagawa, but countless men will die and you will have nothing to hold through the winter. The Oda clan has been known as peasants. Nobuhide himself is as rude as a pig, but he will have his peasants mounted a resistance against your rule. That, or Saito Dosan will march his army to your Nagoya castle. I strongly advise you to reconsider, my lord.”
Rene watched carefully as Yoshimoto thought over.
“Are you not a general that could defeat the Oda on your own?” The daimyo mocked.
“My men are outnumbered. Their men are ruthless and savage beasts. I have no confidence that my army would defeat nor weaken the Oda army.”
“They are peasants with pitchfork, men born to the farm not the battlefield.”
“So are my men. And so is their generals. But because of that, his peasants are willing to die for him while mine are not. Forgive me, my lord, for my clan’s uselessness. But with your great command when we march together at Nagoya castle, we can help you achieve greatness, by claiming Oda Nobuhide’s head for your name. With you commanding your men behind us, where my men can see the Imagawa banners, our morale will rise, our yaris will kill and the Oda will fall.”
Yoshimoto once again stopped to think over Rene’s words.
“They cannot regain their strength over the winter. March your man to the battlefields, slaughter all you can, the Oda will surely fall. You are a samurai, do not speak of retreat or postpone. My army will march with you to the border, where I will wait for your great news of victory.” Yoshimoto exclaimed.
“My lord, have you heard of my uncle who once favored the Oda before my father was killed?” Rene asked politely.
“What of him?”
“As we speak, he is recruiting men and raising a rebellion under the former Matsudaira banner that supports the Oda clan. I do not fear his might for I can crush him easily. But if I march for Oda now, he will taint your hand and trouble your army. Your samurais, you, the great and fearsome Yoshimoto, should not be bothered with the petty rebellion. My lord, please give me this autumn. I will cleanse the Oda supporters in your name. Then, more men will join your cause and our army will grow even stronger than that of the Oda clan. It will then become a decisive victory where Imagawa Yoshimoto claims his honor.”
“Well spoken, Hirotada. Your intelligence surpasses your age. Fine, I will allow you this autumn. Once you’ve eliminated the rebellion, you are to march against the Oda immediately. I will return to my castle and have my men ready. Once you are in Owari province, I will begin to march.”
“Thank you for your generosity, my lord. I will not fail you.”
“Now then, what do you think of the Owari land? How great is the Nagoya castle? Is it as magnificent as the Okazaki castle?”
The conversation took a turn and the rest of the meeting was spent discussing trivial matters.
A few days later, Okazaki castle
With the agreement achieved, or more like the order received, Imagawa Yoshimoto returned to his castle in Totomi province. Yet, the Imagawa army stationing at the border wouldn’t budge, constantly emitting a threat of attack to the local folks near the provicial border. The problem persisted as he held his court trying to resolve it.
“Now that we had two days thinking about a solution, I want you to be frank and speak up. Let me remind you of the problems we have at hand: the Imagawa, the Imagawa’s order and my uncle’s rebellion.”
The court grew into a silent and tense mob while Rene was observing them. After the summer, he had learned at least the composition of his court. On the one hand, the retainers were mostly Matsudaira lineage as the clan was the strongest in the region. They supported the Imagawa clan and were eager to fight the Oda. There were other minorities coming from the Ii, Honda and Okubo, small families that pledged allegiance to the Matsudaira clan once his father, Hirotada’s father who supported siding with the Oda against the Imagawa, was assassinated. Supposedly, they weren’t interested in picking a side but keeping their family wealthy and safely. On the other hand, besides the general Matsudaira Hidenaga, most captains commanding the army bore the small families bloodline. Rene figured the Matsudaira wouldn’t want to waste their members on the battlefield, rather gaining political power.
“My lord, clearly this is an attempt to weaken our clan. Once enough of our men die, our castle will be taken and our province will be claimed by the enemy.” An Ii retainer spoke up. Rene still had trouble remembering their names.
“We all understand that. Thus, I have reached an agreement to only march once the rebellion is defeated. We must not waste men as well in this fight. General, how strong is our army?” He directed the question to Hidenaga.
“Minus the five thousands donating to the minor clans for their security, we now have a mere seven thousands, two thousands of which are attendants, my lord.” Attendant was logistic unit, more like peasants doing everything else like cooking and transporting arms, but fighting on the battlefield in the army. The concept was new to Rene but he managed to grasp it.
“And the rebellion of my uncle Nobutaka?”
“He has three thousands men strong and is growing. I suspect he has had help from across the border with men and weapons but he isn’t growing fast enough. We will win this fight, my lord.”
“But the question is how costly it will be? If we have anything less than five thousands men afterward we wouldn’t hold against any opponents.”
“My lord, we can use sabotage, as you suggested the Imagawa daimyo. My agents are ready and at your service. We will weaken the rebellion by this means until he yields and dies for his cause. Then we can do the same for the Oda and quickly take the Nagoya castle before lord Yoshimoto receives the news.” Shuu Yasanuga spoke up. Since the first day Rene held court, he had constantly urged Rene to use his agents, in other words thugs, ruffians, arsonists and mad men, to serve military purposes. Rene would have approve of this method as he did in the game but some of his retainers refused, stating that it wasn’t the way of the samurai.
“It might be effective for the first time, yes. But they will take up countermeasures and your effort will be wasted. Besides, we Tokugawa are men of words and honors. We do not resort to such means. Anyone else?”
“My lord, with all due respect, why not just march your army to crush the rebellion then regroup and recruit more men, asking lord Yoshimoto for more time?”
“You really have to think further than that. Would he allow? Would he march to us? How long would it take us to regroup and regain our strength? Will the Oda strike? My loyal lords and captains, heed my words, battlefields can be fought, wars can be won but lives will fall. Your lives will. You must think of the clan, of your people.”
“My lord, we are the samurais, we do not fear deaths. Allow us to die for your glory as it is our way of lives.” A captain spoke. The mob cheered. Rene sighed.
“Fine then. We will fight. General, you will lead this charge in my place. How would you proceed?”
“A direct assault, my lord.” Matsudaira Hidenaga exclaimed eagerly.
“I need a detailed plan, when you march, when you engage in the battle, how many men you need and so on. Take your time to think over but give me estimation for now.” Rene concealed his sigh. The meeting then became a conquering planning where Rene technically did not talk once.
Later that night, Rene’s study room
“That Shuu guy, he is of the Hattori’s bloodline. I do not know of the relationship between your clan and my clan but he does practically no harm.” Ataki sat on the window edge behind Rene, dangling his feet and casually commenting. Since that night he pledged service, Ataki hid himself well from the court but took the confidence to come and go at Rene’s room. Inagi sat opposite from Rene, on the other side of the coffee table, annoyed by the shinobi’s manner.
“How would you know then?”
“It is my job, lord. I can do pretty much everything, sabotage, assassination, scouting, blackmailing, delivering, even battle damage assessment and aftermath report.”
“Aren’t the last two the same?” Rene asked without paying attention. He was too focused on the battle plan laid out by the morning court.
“The aftermath report can count for pretty much everything. For example, the purge you did before I came here which took away the power of the minor retainers and lords, I can report that you did unexpectedly well. You have named every single man correctly. And I can even tell you that the purge gives a bonus of strengthening public order and the court’s transparency. Some are worshipping you with the keen eye of justice. But sadly some are rumoring about a pact with the witch.”
“It’s like every major corruptions were wiped out overnight. Not even snitching would result in this. Men who do not understand things resort to witchcraft and magic. But don’t worry, I’ve taken care of it.”
“You killed those men?” Inagi almost shouted.
“No, boy. I, say, persuaded them.”
“My lord, I do not trust this man.” Inagi spoke with fear trembling in his voice.
“Neither do I, but it is necessary.” Rene looked up from the papers and calmed Inagi down. Truth be told, Rene trusted this man as much as he trusted Inagi. It wasn’t instinctive like that he had for the sibling but based on the man’s efficiency and the sheer fact that he didn’t kill Rene when he had the chance. A lot of perks came with his service, including a personal bodyguard and extra lessons in Iga ryu, a more advanced form of ninjitsu teaching stealth art.
“The boy seems, afraid, aren’t you boy?” Ataki taunted. Although he looked thirty or more in his age, his liking to tease people often made people mistaken him younger.
“Do not mock him, Ataki. I want no dispute between my men.”
“What of your retainers then? Every smaller clans hate the Matsudaira for joining the Imagawa and lowering their status to vassal. And since you spoke less, aggressively, against the Oda, your general and captains are dividing ranks based on who to fight next after the rebellion.”
“Are you trying to pick a fight with me, Ataki? You are pretty talkative today.” Rene was pissed and couldn’t concentrate anymore.
“No, no, my lord. I wouldn’t dare. I was just impressed with how you handle the court and Yoshimoto. Your wit truly surpasses your age.”
“My lord, what do you make of this battle plan?” Inagi diverted the topic.
“Were you there? When I spoke with Yoshimoto?”
“I was. And I heard the request as well. Your entourage was touched.”
“What do you think of him?”
“A true samurai, however you take it.” Ataki suddenly turned away to greet the moon and hummed a cheerful melody.
“Fine, then, ignore me. Inagi, hand me the upkeep report…”
“Oh then, I have to ask, are you really going with a direct assault?”
“Oh, great, now you just have to piss me off. If you have any….” Rene stopped midway. “Surprise me, what do you have of the rebellion?”
“I had this as another bargaining chip but you never seem to need it. The number wouldn’t stand but there are something still stands true. The coastal village where they are stationing provides them with both men and food supply. However, the majority of their strength comes from the across the border. There is a smuggling route near the coastline used for transporting weapons, armors and men from the Oda domain to the rebel. Apparently, the villages and families at the provincial border in the Oda’s control are all former Matsudaira clan supporting the Oda, fled when Kiyoyasu was killed. The Oda clan themselves do not invovle in this rebellion. But well, their soils are being harvested for the cause.”
“How the hell did you know all these much?”
“I had months gathering all my barganing cards before coming to you.” He laughed.
“Do you have a network? Do you have an inner circle?”
“What are you getting at, lord?”
“I won’t directly control your agents, but I want to know how many missions I can give you at once.”
“As many as three then. However big my network is, that is the maximum number for efficiency.”
Rene sank into a long contemplation, ignored Inagi and Ataki who began to pick a fight with each other.
“Ataki, stop fighting. When can you get moving once missions are assigned?”
“As soon as now.”
“Good. I will give you three missions. First, find this smuggling network, make sure no convoy ever reach the rebellion. Bring this with you, recruit men if necessary but quietly.” Rene scribbled off a daimyo’s order and gave it to Ataki. “How long will you get to the rebel camp?”
“About two days, plus a possible maximum of five days to track down that network. But if things go well, I’ll need only a day to find the route.”
“Good, do it first. Second, Inagi, how have the local talked about the Imagawa?”
“What do they think of the five thousands men stationed in our land a few days ago?”
“The folks don’t like them for they trampled their crops and fields, scared off the herds and harassed the folks.”
“Do they know the Imagawa had left?”
“Only the closest villages, my lord.”
“Good, good. Ataki, use your network, spread the rumour that the Imagawa are moving around our land, not leaving for their home. We will use the rumor to pressure the rebel. And, hold on…” Rene dug up from the mess beneath the coffee table and pulled out a small square piece of scroll. “My scout intercepted this months ago. This is the Oda daimyo’s crest on official documents. I hope forgery is one of your specialty. Forge a document stating that the Oda clan will not support the rebel in any means, in other words cutting off their supplies and stopping any trades between the Tokugawa clan and the Oda clan. Make a copy, give one to me and bring one to the Matsudaira house in the Oda land. How long will it takes you?”
“One week. I can see where you are going with this.”
“Then don’t ruin this. Once you’ve finished everything, I want you to report to me personally. Have your best man on the smuggling mission. Two weeks, can you be back here by then?”
“I can get everything done within ten days from now. But what about the third mission though?”
“It’s about this Shuu guy. Can your men recruit his men into your network?”
“If it’s me then maybe I can. But I’m not really sure about my men. Where are you going with this?”
“Ok, then change of plan. I just need to make sure what’s in play here. Have your men followed Shuu and anyone he made contact with. I want to see what he is up to.”
“So basically like what my men’ve been doing with the rest of the your court members right?”
“Just a joke, my lord. It is a pretty high demand but I can do it. For how long though?”
“If there’s nothing interesting, until the end of this year. Will you tell him? He shares your lord’s bloodline.”
“You are my lord, now. And no, it is not a direct threat against the clan. I don’t even know why this guy is here at all.”
“Then a good chance to find out, ain’t it? That would be all.”
“Then I shall take my leave. Take care, lord.”
Ataki adjusted his position and skillfully fell out of the window like a diver out of a boat, awing Inagi in the process.
“My lord, who is this man?” Inagi asked, sweat rolling on his cheek. It wasn’t their first encounter but Inagi hadn’t got used to his methodology.
“A man who can get the job done.” Rene laughed. “Inagi, deliver these notes to my general and my captains and have the court summoned for tomorrow morning. Do it now, once you’re done report to me and you can rest for the night.”
“At once, my lord.” Inagi bowed then left the room. Rene waited for a few minutes until the silence reigned then clicked the button on his earphone. A few rings, then he heard Jame’s voice.
“I have two things. First, a favor, villages and families near our provincial border are supplying the rebel in my region. Can you tighten the grip and make sure these places cease operation?”
“Will have it done. This is benefitial to my clan as well so you don’t have to call it a favor. What’s the second?”
“When will you march against Saito Dosan?”
“I’m not sure by now, why?”
“I have a plan…”
Author: Minh Vu