Owari, Early Autumn 1545.
He looked at the Japan map laying on the table with small flags illustrated where the clans deployed their armies. If he acted quickly, this war would be very favorable for his clan.
“This does look good for our clan, my lords. I believe we can strike now when they are still preparing for the coming winter.” General Takayama spoke fiercely. James could see the desire for glory burn bright in the general’s eyes.
“It is true. With Saito Dosan out of the castle with his main army to fight the rebellions near the Shinano Provinces, his castle will be left empty. We can use this advantage and sneak his castle and catch him in the open.”
“What if the Tokugawa march, general? We cannot defend Owari with our main force up north.” Lord Maeda asked. He had always been a careful man, and for that, James appreciated his advice in the war council. At the end of last season, James himself selected only a few among his retainers to discuss with him about military issues. He didn’t want to talk about it in open court, for he wanted to keep these matters secret. If other clans had spies in the court, this would prevent them from getting crucial information such as his strategies and intentions.
“That is a wise concern, lord Maeda. But I can assure you, if we can strike Mino and return to Nagoya within this season, we will not have trouble with the Tokugawa and Imagawa. My informants reported that Tokugawa Hirotada is not going to march until the end of autumn. There is a rebellion within the province requires his attention. He won’t be able to finish off the rebels anytime soon, because the rebellion leaders are smart enough to put their main camp on a hill with their back facing Ise bay. With constant supply from nearby coastal villages, the rebels can hold out at least until the snow falls. As for the Imagawa, from their position in Suruga Province, if they march now, they can only reach us as soon as early spring next year.” Lord Hatake placed the flags on the map as he spoke. He just returned from Mikawa this morning with scouts’ reports, right in time before this meeting. Right after he received a call from Rene, the daimyo across Owari-Mikawa border, James summoned Lord Hatake Illitaka and sent him off for Mikawa. His job was not only busting the smuggling network which had been helping the rebellion in Mikawa, but also noting all things happened there. Besides using the reports to convince his council to march north, James believed these intelligence would be helpful for Rene to deal with his domestic issues.
“That said we are good to march, but do we know exactly where Saito’s army is camping?”
“We don’t know their exact position,” now was his turn to speak. He had sent both the Maeda and Aizu to scout the enemy territory, but neither of them could provide him precise location of Saito’s army. They just knew their army had vanished into the woods north east of their stronghold a few days ago. “But can any of you guess where he might be? If you were him, what would you do? I have information that there is a rebellion five weeks march from their main stronghold, Inabayama castle.”
He marked the estimate position of the rebellions. Mino was covered mostly by forests and mountains, thus his intelligence here was less effective than he desired. He would need to construct a sake den in Inabayama as soon as he took control of it. That would give him a better change to spread his espionage network there. Lord Aizu reported about the rebels’ positions somewhere near the mountain pass to South Shinano Province.
“Does anyone know about both Saito and the rebel’s strength?”
“We believe the rebels have about two thousand men strong, mostly ashigarus with some cavalry. As for the Saito, I have reports showing that five thousand men with five hundred attendants and a hundred horse cargoes heading out of the castle.” There was something missing in these information that James couldn’t tell. Something was wrong with these numbers. The Aizu must have made a mistake somewhere. But where? Lord Aizu was very sure himself about the quality of these reports. Sometimes James wished he had an agent like that Ataki of Rene. He would prove useful in these situations.
“In any situation, our army can easily overpower the Saito, my daimyo,” Lord Akechi spoke up. He had been strangely quiet this morning. Normally, he would eagerly make plans for James and suggest his men for important positions. He might be up to something, but James couldn’t tell what it was. Both the Kizuki and Tomishide couldn’t provide him any useful information. Even lord Hatake, the one who initially reported the Akechi’s treachery couldn’t prove his accusation either. The informant who overheard Lord Akechi plotting with someone died by a fever before James could question him. “We should march quickly to take Inabayama castle before they can return and reinforce their defense. Once their main army is in the castle, it would be difficult to lay siege.”
“Anybody disagrees with marching north?” He looked around, and everyone seemed to agree on this matter. Most looked calm, but for general Takayama. He had always been eager to fight, and had grown bored with sitting in town and recruiting army.
“Then we shall march. Anyone wants to lead the vanguard?”
“I will lead the vanguard, m’lord,” as James expected, general Takayama signed up without hesitation.
“This time we march, we will take all ten thousand men we have stationing outside Nagoya for Mino. However, because we will march in haste this time, we will take only two thousands attendants with five hundred horse cargoes for supplies. Our target will be taking Mino within two weeks, then defeat the remnants of Saito’s army within the next month. We will have to get back to Nagoya two weeks before winter starts. We will march right tonight to prevent the news from spreading out soon. Assume they have couriers around Nagoya, their informants will know we march for Mino in the next morning. When Saito Dosan knows about it, we may very well just pass the border for a while, and if Saito marches quick enough, our flanks will be exposed when we lay siege.”
“Give me two thousand men, m’lord. I can rush to take Inabayama castle before Saito Dosan army returns to the castle. Your main army can follow behind and stop Saito Dosan on their way back.”
“That is a good plan, general. It is actually what I have in mind, but you shall not lead the vanguard. It it I who will lead the vanguard with two thousand men with no attendants or cargoes. Lord Akechi and his sons will accompany me. Lord Akechi will be my advisor on the field, and as for the boys, I will train them myself and one day they might be good generals. General Takayama, you will lead the main army with five thousand men, with half attendants and cargoes. Lord Aizu, Kizuki, Tomishide, you will assist general Takayama on the field. I believe your caution can be of good help. Also, my son, Nobunaga will follow you, general Takayama. I hope he can learn some experience from you, my best general. As for Lord Maeda and Hatake, you will lead the reserve with the remaining three thousand men, the attendants and cargoes. The reserve will march ten leagues behind the main army, and will provide assistance should trouble times arise. Does anyone want to change anything? If there’s nothing else, you are dismissed to prepare for the march. Thank you for your council, my lords.”
Just as the lords left the room, Midori stepped by his side with a sealed scroll in hand.
“M’lord, Ishimaru told me to give you this. It is our agents’ report from Akechi’s mansion. He told me not to give you when everyone was still here.”
“Good job,” he broke the seal and was a bit surprised by its content. “Haruki, call general Takayama back here immediately. There’s a change of plan.”
Midori rushed out of the room, leaving James alone in the room with Japan map. It was big, bigger than it was in his first impression. The real Japan was even bigger, with much more dangers than he expected when he started playing this game. It’d been fun, but thrilling also. He was a bit surprised when he realized a part of him enjoyed it. A part of him enjoyed all these schemes, backstabs, politics, etc. Some said he was born for it.
“Ishimaru, summon the Eight. Meet me in this room after I’m done with general Takayama. Call my wife also. There is something we need to take care of.”
“M’lord, general Takayama is here.” Midori called in just moments after Ishimaru left to gather the rest of the Eight. They stationed all around the inner castle where James was having his meetings.
“Come in. And you too Haruki.”
“You have need of me, m’lord?”
“I just remember something. Do you remember the number of attendants and cargoes Saito Dosan took with him when he left Inabayama?”
“Five hundreds attendants and a hundred cargoes, m’lord.”
“Think about it general. Just five hundred attendants and a hundred cargoes. He chose hidden passages in the woods without any villages on the way to supply his army. And it is a five weeks march. You see our problem here?”
“Now that you’ve mentioned it, it is indeed weird. With that amount of attendants, especially cargoes, he couldn’t march far, not in Shinano woods.”
“He might very well set up an ambush somewhere on our way.”
“I think so too, m’lord. Here,” he pointed at a position around half a day from Inabayama. “I’d lay an ambush here if I were him. The forest is far enough from the roads to camouflage his army, yet close enough for him to have a quick assault when our army is in range.”
“True. You have anything to counter this, general?”
“I can lead the vanguard in your place, and you can lead the main army. When I got ambushed, I can handle myself and hold out until our main army arrive.”
“You are valiant, general. I know you do not fear death, for it is our way of life. But you are my most trusted general, so I cannot let you risk leading the vanguard. I will lead the vanguard myself. If I am not in the vanguard but in the main army, Saito Dosan might wait for your vanguard to pass and let you lay siege Inabayama. He will wait for me to come and then take me out. Then, you will not be able to support me because you’re sieging the castle, and should our main army lose, you will be caught in the middle of the enemy. Without the main army, both you and Lord Maeda’s reserve will not last long. Also, your job is to keep Nobunaga safe. He needs to learn directly on the battlefield, but I don’t want to risk his life. He’s just eleven.”
“Then what should we do, m’lord?”
“I shall still lead the main army, but I shall maintain twenty leagues from the main army in case I got ambushed, you can rush for my aid. As for your main army, divide them into two smaller groups. You will lead the first group with two thousand men yourself. This group will be the first to rush for my aid once I am in trouble. The second group, you can leave it for Lord Aizu. When the second ambush army appears, Lord Aizu’s army will flank them and support us. Lord Maeda’s reserve is too far away to help in these cases, but he is close enough if there’s a third army.”
“A second ambush, m’lord?”
“Yes. If I were him, I would not use all my army for one ambush. It would be too risky, in case the enemy has a supporting army behind. I would split my army in half, the first ambush to destroy the target enemy, and the second ambush will provide support for the first. In our case, the second ambush will prevent you from supporting me, thus why we need Lord Aizu. Plus, half my vanguard’s captains are Akechis, and I do not trust Lord Akechi. I have proof of his treachery.”
“Why don’t you arrest them all and have them commit seppuku?”
“I want to get my hands on the mastermind. I believe he is working with a foreign power to plot his scheme.”
“You mean the Saito, m’lord?”
“Might very well be, though I’m not sure. We will see how things go. Now you can go and have your preparations. Remember, you have the key for our skirmish this season, general.”
“Thank you, m’lord. I won’t let you down.” He bowed, and with James’ permission, the general left the room. He hoped he had trusted the right men. Those minor lords, and this general. His life, and his unification campaign depended a lot on this skirmish. The game will be way more complicated if both him, general Takayama, his main army, and even his son Nobunaga die. But for some reason, he had no hesitation or fear as he drafted his plans. He didn’t even doubt himself even once.
It was almost mid-day. Even inside this room with walls and winds blowing through the windows, he could feel the heat outside. It wasn’t as hot, but it was irritating. There was too much humid in the air.
“M’lord,” his inner circle bodyguards were there right at the door step. “You have need of us?”
“Come in. How’s the secret envoy to Okazaki castle?” he asked when they were on their own. “You did as I had instructed?”
“Yes, m’lord. He departed at midnight with one of the fastest horses we have. He’s travelling off the main road so he’d probably arrive in Okazaki after three days travel.”
“And the message?”
“It is away too, m’lord. It will reach its destination in time.”
“Good. That will buy us some time. Now where is my wife?”
Just as James asked, his bodyguard outside the chamber announced her presence.
“M’lord, lady Tsuchida is here.”
“Come in, my lady.”
“You have need of me, m’lord?” His wife was gentle as always, still with shrewdness in her eyes.
“Yes, I do my lady. I will march north tonight for Mino Province. I will need you to take care of the court while I’m away. I will leave Kagesettsu here to be your bodyguard. I believe you will do well, my lady.”
“I will not let you down, m’lord. Do you have any special instruction?” she looked at him and smiled.
“You are indeed smart, Tsuchida. Once I’m off for Mino Province, you shall call for a feast to celebrate our departing. You shall summon all the ladies of major clans in Owari. There will be no excuse for absence. All the ladies must be here, especially lady Akechi. You must make sure her attendance.”
“I can see to that m’lord.”
“Five days after the feast, you will take them to Arako Kannon-ji to pray for our safe return. Keep lady Akechi close. I have arranged a small incident in the temple. That will kill off some of her retainers. You shall suggest our men as their replacement. After that, keep her in Nagoya until my return. I believe you can do it, yes?”
“Of course, m’lord. I will not let you down. But an incident in Arako?”
“It may cause a bit of a mayhem, but fear not my lady. You are not the target. They just want to enjoy some chaos.”
“I understand, m’lord. You can count on me.”
“I know I can. Now you can go and prepare everything, my lady. I will have some words with my men, then we will have lunch later.”
“Yes, m’lord. I will see you soon.”
“Arako incident, m’lord?” Ishimaru asked as soon as lady Tsuchida, James’ wife left the room.
“Yes, Ishimaru. There will be an incident there. But that is something for later on. Now how is our Ryukage group doing?”
“We are still recruiting, m’lord. We’ve assembled a few recruits, half of them are samurais, two of them are shinobis, a kitchen servant, and a geisha. We are still training them and putting them on tests.”
“Are they ready to march tonight?”
“Yes, m’lord. You want them to march with us to Mino?”
“No, Ishimaru. I want you to summon them and put them as secret bodyguards for my wife. Do not let them reveal themselves until lady Tsuchida is in danger. They will follow her everywhere she goes, from tonight until I return from Mino.”
“As for all of you, prepare yourselves carefully this time. There will be grave dangers on the way. Kagesettsu, you will stay with lady Tsuchida and serve as her bodyguards, as you heard previously.”
“M’lord, I thought my place is to be by your side?”
“It is true, Kagesettsu. But because this time will be different. We only have eight captains for the Ryukage, and I want one station here with my wife. You are a cautious man, Kagesettsu. I trust you with the protection of my wife, and our security here in Nagoya.”
“It is my honor to have this duty. But what troubles you that you have to go for such methods, m’lord?”
“This is Ishimaru’s agent’s report from Akechi’s domain north of Owari. You can see for yourselves,” James put the scroll Haruki gave him earlier that morning on the table. He could see the shock on his bodyguards’ faces as they read the content. Just as he expected.
“Why don’t you arrest them all, m’lord? This is treachery.” Ishimaru startled. “We should arrest them all and put them to the sword.”
“This is not enough to arrest them. We do not have solid proof. And it was only an envoy. We can’t do anything, or at least, anything legitimate.”
“Then we can assassinate them, m’lord. It is unwise to leave them untouched like that.”
“I want to catch them all, my friends. All of them. And kill them all. But the time is not right. Now, here is your true job, Kagesettsu. You will rally our household bodyguards and split them in two groups. The first group will depart for Akechi’s domain. Ambush outside the place and wait for my command from Mino Province. Another will stay here with you. After the feast, and the Arako Kannon-ji visit, there will be a messenger from me. If there is blood on that letter, command your men near Akechi’s domain to assault the place. If they resist you, kill them all. Arrest those who surrender and lock them up in the place. I will bring them back to Nagoya once I’m back. As for the second group, defend lady Tsuchida, arrest lady Akechi, and kill the rest of Akechi’s envoy. Keep her in the dungeon and wait for my return.”
“And the Arako incident, m’lord?”
“It will take my wife and the envoy two days to reach Arako-ji from Nagoya. The night they rest on the road, Kagesettsu, you will send the Ryukage group to assassinate Akechi’s clan guard captain and half of their bodyguards. We will forge it as if it was Saito Dosan’s doing, so do it silently and quickly. Do you understand?”
“Yes, we do. What if the messenger arrives earlier than our expectation, what will we do?”
“Kill them all. Make it so bloody and horrible that the news of this spread all around Japan, so that no other clans dare to betray us ever again. And if there’s no blood in the message. Then leave them be.”
“Yes, m’lord. We will prepare your arrangements at once.”
“Good,” James smiled and put the scroll the candle. The flame slowly consumed the paper, turned it into ashes, and then vanished in the air. “It is best that this information does not leave this room. For the rest of you Eight, I will have to depend a lot on you to survive this march. There might very well be an ambush on the way.”
“You can count on us, m’lord. We will protect you until our last breath.” They all bowed, and James could see determination on their faces. Even Midori. She was just a girl.
“Aye. I believe you will do so, my friends. But I’d prefer all of us to live. I have a lot of plans in my mind for you all.” James laughed to blow away the tension in the air. He could see Midori smiling at him. This was the first time he put so much faith in her. Their lives on the line. But something made him believe they would make it out alive. There was something. There must be something.
“Now, you are good to go, gentlemen. And Kankata, get my lord Maeda after lunch. I have a small arrangement with him.”
All his bodyguards bowed and hastily left for their mission, all but Midori. She always stayed by his side, day and night, for she was his personal maid. He didn’t have much need of her, but he enjoyed her company.
“What do you think of my plan, Haruki? You didn’t speak much today.”
“It is a very good plan, m’lord. Very shrewd and delicate. It’s just…”
“I don’t like the idea of you risking your life, m’lord. You are our daimyo. It might be dangerous for you to lead the vanguard.”
“It is because I am your daimyo that I have to lead the vanguard. If I don’t put my life on the line and fight alongside the men, who would fight for me? Our army is made of peasants, Haruki. They have faith in me, and as long as I care for them, and fight with them, they will die for me, for our cause. If I’m with them, they will not break. My enemy will call me coward if I just hide behind the front line like a child hide behind his mother’s skirt.”
“I understand, m’lord. But still…”
“I know you care for me, Haruki. It is kind of you to do so.”
“It’s not just that, m’lord.” She stopped and stood there staring at her feet. He didn’t see her face, but he could imagine her face turning red.
“It is fine, Midori. Let’s head out. My wife is waiting for us, and I’m hungry too.”
He laughed and pushed the slide door open. He could feel the warmth of the sun light on his face. It had been a tough morning, and he needed some rest. Midori was still standing in a corner of the room, surprised as she heard he called her name. She looked at him with her big black eyes, probably couldn’t believe what she heard.
“What are you waiting for? We are late.”
Author: Dat Le