Part 31. The Horselord

Etchu Province, Summer 1546

He walked alongside the castle wall, looking at the crows chipping off bits by bits of his enemies head hanging on the parapet. It was such a beautiful sight that he replicated at every single castle he took, and even when there was just dried skulls on those sticks, he kept them decorated his castle walls. That would send a message to every other daimyo in this world, or at least the nearby lords. This was the third one he executed, but wouldn’t be the last. As soon as his men were ready, they would march straight to Echigo Province. This would be the best time to take Echigo, since that idiotic Uesugi Kenshin was sleeping at Fukushima.

He shifted his view from the heads to his cavalry divisions who were patrolling the streets of the town of Toyama, or as the local called Toyama-shi. Since the capture of Toyama castle, there were signs of rebellion within the castle town. There were a great many ways to put these kind of opposition to rest, but he chose the most violent way of all. He burned every rebellions and their family until there were only charred bones left, including their wives and children, and hang the bodies on spikes every few miles on the main road. All their properties were confiscated and then shared among the rest of the loyal population. He liked the crows feasting on those charred bones most, since they were the ones who spread the news of his wraith to all corner of Japan. Or at least that was what he hoped for.

“M’lord,” a messenger ran across the castle wall as if the world was collapsing behind him. “Bad news, m’lord. Our eyes and ears in South Shinano were all slain.”

“Good to know,” he nodded at the servant and waved his hand to dismiss the man.

“M’lord,” just a moment after the previous messenger left, another came in with the same expression on his face. “Bad news from Kai, m’lord. Our ally Imagawa was destroyed and the Tokugawa had captured Suruga.”

“I heard that. You may leave,” he waved his hand, dismissed the messenger. “Well I know that already. The news here does arrive slowly. Men, summon General Sanada, Kosaka, and Hoshina to the study immediately.”

He shouted at the bodyguard who was standing a few feet away on the parapet as he walked back to the study of the old daimyo. “This is so troublesome. I didn’t want to touch Kiso yet, and they already bother me. What an idiot, that daimyo.”

“M’lord summoned us,” the generals bowed as they arrived.

“Yes, yes I did. We have some situations here. Our spy network in South Shinano was crippled, and Suruga is in the Tokugawa hand now. Rumors had it that an Oda division is also there. What are your takes on this, generals?”

“We should retreat, m’lord.” Said General Kosaka. “If our network at South Shinano was attacked, it meant that Kiso was making a move on us. We should prevent this from escalating further. Echigo can wait.”

“I don’t agree with you, general Kosaka.” Sanada Yukitaka spoke up. “We cannot retreat right now. Our men’s morale is high and we’re on momentum to take Echigo while Uesugi’s main force is away. If we retreat now, it would take years to have this chance again.”

“But how do we deal with Kiso though. Their army may be full of green boys, but they are an army nevertheless. We can’t take them lightly,” general Kosaka objected.

“We can send our spies up here back South to control the situation.” Suggested general Hoshina.

“That won’t work. We need them here to deal with the stupid Ikko monks in Kaga.”

“Good point.” He spoke up. “We can’t move our agents here. The peasants will rebel as soon as they are gone.”

“What about our second army stationing in Kai, m’lord? We can use them to deal with the Kiso while we’re marching north and take Echigo.” Sanada suggested.

“But that will leave our capital vulnerable though. We don’t have enough garrison if we move our army to deal with the Kiso. The Tokugawa could stab us in the back. I don’t think they’re fond of us too much.”

“We can ask Hojo clan to help us protecting Kai while we’re away?” Hoshina Masatoshi finally opened his mouth. Amongst his three great generals, or as they called Danjo in court, he was the oldest and quietest, but also the best with yari. “The last time I check they are stationing at Izu province.”

“I don’t trust the Hojo that much, really. They could very well betray us and claim Kai for themselves. Our capital is very valuable in other men’s eyes.” Sanada Yukitaka shook his head.

“Then we can offer them something else instead of our Kai. Suruga is ripe for harvest now,” he laughed. “Offer them the old Imagawa land for the cost of protecting our capital.”

“M’lord, the Imagawa was our ally. We can’t just abandom them like this and prey on them while they’re weak,” Kosaka Masanobu protested. “We should send some men to recapture Suruga and restore Imagawa power.”

“Don’t think that’s a good idea, Masanobu. Yoshimoto made his mistake, so now his clan pay the price. He weakened the clan, so it has no use to us now. The sooner we get rid of them the better.”

“What do you have in mind, m’lord?” the generals fell quiet waiting for their daimyo to speak up.

“Both Echigo and Suruga are ripe for the taking, yet I can’t be at both place at the same time. What a pain,” he complained and stared at the map for a moment. None of his general made a sound when they saw he was concentrating. He took a deep breath, and looked at his generals after a long period of silence.

“Here’s the game plan. We’ll keep moving forward with our original plan. For the Kiso, I will send a bird to my brother, general Amari, and Itagaki to march to South Shinano and destroy the rebellious clan. I will send a bird to Hojo’s daimyo and give him a suggestion to take Suruga. His men in Izu is close enough to march there quickly. I estimate we’ll finish all our conquest before winter, just as we originally planned.”

“I have a feeling we’re overextending, m’lord.” Kosaka showed his concern. “Should one division fail, we will either have to abandon that one or have to retreat and try to control the damage.”

“There’s one more reason we need to take Echigo and destroy the Uesugi as soon as possible, generals.” General Hoshina put a new red flag, which was used to mark potential targets, on the map. “Right now, I guess the Uesugi’s target is Sado, the only gold mine here in the North. They will be much stronger and harder to destroy if they have a hold on Sado Island.”

“If they do want to take Sado, then they will be very hard to eliminate. But why do you think they will aim for Sado though? They can expand northward to Miyagi or southward to Shimotsuke also.”

“Shimotsuke is in Satake’s clan at the moment, who is still strong and has the ability to defend itself. Even if they could overcome Satake’s army, they will expose themselves to the Hojo in Edo region. That will be a deadlock war and they won’t want to fight it until they are prepared. On the other hand, Miyagi is an easier target, but it’s also desired by the Mogami and Date in the far north. If the Uesugi take Miyagi, it will have to confront either Mogami or Date or both. It’s still a manageable option, but still quite a risk. Sado on the other hand is easier to take and because of its location, no one would venture out there and try to take that in the middle of a deadlock war in the main land. It’s the easiest to take, so I bet they’d go for Sado next after they stabilize the situation in Fukushima.”

“Now if their goal is Sado,” Sanada said, “Echigo will be the only place they can embark their army on the water. If we can take the province, we can prevent them from taking Sado, and also have a place to recruit agents to fight against the heretics Ikko.”

“It is true that we may risk overextending, but I’m willing to take that risk,” he said. “In worst-case scenario, we can start over from the north. The strongest bulk of our army is in our hand right here in Etchu, so as long as I have this, I’m willing to take those risks.”

“M’lord spoke wisely,” his generals slightly bowed as they realized their daimyo had made up his mind. “Our army will be ready to march in the afternoon, m’lord.”

“You did a fine job, generals. I want to be alone for now,” he slightly nodded as his generals bowed and left him in his study. This was probably the third time he visit this study since they capture it in the winter. Most of the time, he discussed important things with his generals in the cellar where he could drink sake and enjoy the dimly lit place.

He walked along the shelves looking at the scrolls as he was dialing his friend at Hojo clan. Whoever owned this castle before his arrive apparently took quite an interest in religion. Most the scrolls he found here were the works of Shinto or Ikko, even some Catholics.

“I haven’t heard from you for a while, Marx. Have something fun to share?” he heard a familiar voice coming from his earphone. They didn’t talk to each other for a while now, since she started the conquest in Edo region to eliminate all rebels scattering around the provinces before bringing war northward.

“Depends on how you think fun is,” he chuckled. It was always good to hear her voice. It always had an alleviating and soothing ring to him. “I put quite a number of heads on spikes that I stopped counting since last winter. It’s a bit shame that just quite a few begged for their lives. Most of them tried to face their execution with a straight face.”

“So did you spare those who begged for their lives?” She giggled. He could hear the howling wind from the other side. “Who do you think I am, Irmina? I crucified those cowards and displayed them on top of the parapet along with the heads. They made quite some noise early on, but after a while they all got quiet when the crow poked off their eyes.”

“That’s indeed quite a scene to see. Once I’m done dealing with these idiots down here, I’ll pay you a visit. They won’t miss the daimyo’s wife for a few weeks after all.”

“I’ll make sure you have all the comfort you need.” He sat down by the window and opened a random scroll. He looked at it but all he saw were her dark blue eyes looking back at him. “And in return, I want to see the garden of death you talked about so much earlier. How’s your body count so far?”

“I just cleanse the whole clan in Musashi who was plotting a rebel. I caught them red handed even before they could muster a proper army.” There were footsteps, or should he say hoovesteps, over the radio. “I hung them all, from the elders to the kids. Damn they made quite a ruckus, especially the minors. But eventually, they all turn quiet.”

“Sure they do. They all shut up after a while,’ he picked up a quill and tried to replicate the eyes he saw. “So what are you doing right now? Sunbathing?”

“It’s not summer yet, idiot,” she giggled. “I’m just riding along the coast near Edo castle. They have quite a gorgeous beach here.”

“No wonder I smell the sea even in my room. Are you in bikini? You’re very attractive with fewer clothes on you.”

“I bet you’ll faint immediately when you see me in kimono, pervert.” She laughed. He heard a soft thump as she hop off the horse. The sound from the sea was getting closer and closer. “Anyway, you sure don’t just call me for some small talk. What do you need?”

“How many men do you have right now?”

“Around twenty five thousands with two third are yari ashigarus and the rest is a mix between bow and fire bomb stationing in Musashi with me. I’m piling another one at Izu and Sagami. It’s around ten thousand at the end of this season.”

“What’s your plan for your division at Izu?”

“For now, I’m just building a reserve army in case I need its assistance in the fight up north or to defend Sagami and Izu. So for now, not any specific.”

“Sometimes we do think alike,” he burst out laughing. He liked the way she thinks. Probably that was why they became best friends. Or because they were neighbor since they were little. “My reports said something about a Tokugawa and possibly an Oda army stationing in Suruga. I guess you should know that. In case they declare…”

“I’ll strike Suruga and take care of them.” She cut him off before he could finish. “Is it right?”

“As I said, we do think alike. Oh and I forgot to ask, are you at war with anyone right now?”

“Not right now, but soon I bet. And let me see,” she left a quiet moment hanging in their conversation. “I think Satake and I will have war soon.”

“You know you may have to fight a two fronts war right?”

“Can you believe you just told me that?” they burst out laughing. Even in the real world, nobody could make him laugh so much and feel so happy, nobody but her.

“Ok, I yield. Dam you bastard. But for now, I have to go. My army’s waiting.”

“Make sure you enjoy them enough,” she giggled. “Enough pleasure and well, you can guess the rest.”

“You said it backwards, idiot.” He laughed and hung up.

And then he realized how empty the world was without her laughter.

“M’lord,” general Sanada called him from outside the room a moment later. “The army is waiting for your command, sir.”

“Hoshina takes the vanguard. Masanobu takes the reserve. You with me. We march.” He shook his head to relieve distraction and don his helmet on. The legendary helmet of Takeda Shingen.

*************************************************************

Author: Dat Le

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