CHAPTER 12 – Shogun

CHAPTER 12 – Shogun

As Toranaga watched the barbarian leave the room, he took his mind regretfully off the startling interview and came to grips with the more immediate problem of Ishido.

  Toranaga had decided not to dismiss the priest, knowing it would further infuriate Ishido, even though he was equally certain the continued presence of the priest might be dangerous. The less foreigners know, the better. The less anyone knows the better, he thought. Will Tsukku-san’s influence on the Christian daimyos be for me or against me? Until today I would have trusted him implicitly. But there were some strange moments with the barbarian that I don’t yet understand.

  Ishido deliberately did not follow the usual courtesies but came instantly to the point. “Again I must ask, what is your answer to the Council of Regents?”

  “Again I repeat: As President of the Council of Regents I do not believe any answer is necessary. I’ve made a few minor family relationships that are unimportant. No answer is required.”

  “You betrothe your son, Naga-san, to the daughter of Lord Masamune—marry one of your granddaughters to Lord Zataki’s son and heir—another granddaughter to Lord Kiyama’s son. All the marriages are to feudal lords or their close relations and therefore not minor and absolutely contrary to our Master’s orders.”

  “Our late Master, the Taikō, has been dead a year. Unfortunately. Yes. I regret my brother-in-law’s death and would have preferred him alive and still guiding the destiny of the Empire.” Toranaga added pleasantly, turning a knife in a constant wound, “If my brother-in-law were alive there’s no doubt he would approve these family connections. His instructions applied to marriages that threatened the succession of his house. I don’t threaten his house or my nephew Yaemon, the Heir. I’m content as Lord of the Kwanto. I seek no more territory. I’m at peace with my neighbors and wish his peace to continue. By the Lord Buddha, I’ll not be the first to break the peace.”

  For six centuries the realm had been seared by constant civil war. Thirty-five years ago, a minor daimyo called Goroda had taken possession of Kyoto, abetted mainly by Toranaga. Over the next two decades this warrior had miraculously subdued half of Japan, made a mountain of skulls and declared himself Dictator—still not yet powerful enough to petition the reigning Emperor to grant him the title Shōgun though he was vaguely descended from a branch of the Fujimotos. Then, sixteen years ago, Goroda was assassinated by one of his generals and his power fell into the hands of his chief vassal and most brilliant general, the peasant Nakamura.

  In four short years, General Nakamura, helped by Toranaga, Ishido, and others, obliterated Goroda’s descendants and brought the whole of Japan under his absolute, sole control, the first time in history that one man had subjugated all the realm. In triumph, he went to Kyoto to bow before Go-Nijo, the Son of Heaven. There, because he was born peasant, Nakamura had had to accept the lesser title of Kwampaku, Chief Adviser, which later he renounced in favor of his son, taking for himself the title Taikō. But every daimyo bowed before him, even Toranaga. Incredibly, there had been complete peace for twelve years. Last year the Taikō had died.

  “By the Lord Buddha,” Toranaga said again. “I’ll not be the first to break the peace.”

  “But you will go to war?”

  “A wise man prepares for treachery, neh? There are evil men in every province. Some are in high places. We both know the limitless extent of treachery in the hearts of men.” Toranaga stiffened. “Where the Taikō left a legacy of unity, now we are split into my East and your West. The Council of Regents is divided. The daimyos are at odds. A Council cannot rule a maggot-infested hamlet, let alone an Empire. The sooner the Taikō’s son is of age, the better. The sooner there’s another Kwampaku the better.”

  “Or perhaps Shōgun?” Ishido said insinuatingly.

  “Kwampaku or Shōgun or Taikō, the power is the same,” Toranaga said. “Of what real value is a title? The power is the only important thing. Goroda never became Shōgun. Nakamura was more than content as Kwampaku and later Taikō. He ruled and that is the important thing. What does it matter that my brother-in-law was once a peasant? What does it matter that my family is ancient? What does it matter that you’re low born? You’re a general, a liege lord, even one of the Council of Regents.”

  It matters very much, Ishido thought. You know it. I know it. Every daimyo knows it. Even the Taikō knew it. “Yaemon is seven. In seven years he becomes Kwampaku. Until that time—”

  “In eight years, General Ishido. That’s our historic law. When my nephew is fifteen he becomes adult and inherits. Until that time we five Regents rule in his name. That’s what our late Master willed.”

  “Yes. And he also ordered that no hostages were to be taken by Regents against one another. Lady Ochiba, the mother of the Heir, is hostage in your castle at Yedo, against your safety here, and that also violates his will. You formally agreed to obey his covenants as did all the Regents. You even signed the document in your own blood.”

  Toranaga sighed. “The Lady Ochiba is visiting Yedo where her only sister is in labor. Her sister is married to my son and heir. My son’s place is in Yedo while I am here. What’s more natural than for a sister to visit a sister at such a time? Isn’t she honored? Perhaps I’ll have a first grandson, neh?”

  “The mother of the Heir is the most important lady in the Empire. She should not be in—” Ishido was going to say “enemy hands” but he thought better of it—“in an unusual city.” He paused, then added clearly, “The Council would like you to order her home today.”

  Toranaga avoided the trap. “I repeat, the Lady Ochiba’s no hostage and therefore is not under my orders and never was.”

  “Then let me put it differently. The Council requests her presence in Osaka instantly.”

  “Who requests this?”

  “I do. Lord Sugiyama. Lord Onoshi and Lord Kiyama. Further, we’re all agreed we wait here until she’s back in Osaka. Here are their signatures.”

  Toranaga was livid. Thus far he had manipulated the Council so that voting was always split two to three. He had never been able to win a four-to-one against Ishido, but neither had Ishido against him. Four to one meant isolation and disaster. Why had Onoshi defected? And Kiyama? Both implacable enemies even before they had converted to the foreign religion. And what hold had Ishido now over them?

  Ishido knew that he had shattered his enemy. But one move remained to make victory complete. So he implemented the plan that he and Onoshi had agreed upon. “We Regents are all agreed that the time has come to finish with those who are planning to usurp my Master’s power and kill the Heir. Traitors will be condemned. They will be exhibited in the streets as common criminals, with all their generations, and then they will be executed like common criminals, with all their generations. Fujimoto, Takashima, low born, high born—no matter who. Even Minowara!”

  A gasp of rage broke from every Toranaga samurai, for such sacrilege against the semi-regal families was unthinkable; then the young samurai, Usagi, Hiro-matsu’s grandson-in-law, was on his feet, flushed with anger. He ripped out his killing sword and leapt at Ishido, the naked blade readied for the two-handed slash.

  Ishido was prepared for the death blow and made no move to defend himself. This was what he had planned for, hoped for, and his men had been ordered not to interfere until he was dead. If he, Ishido, were killed here, now, by a Toranaga samurai, the whole Osaka garrison could fall on Toranaga legitimately and slay him, irrespective of the hostage. Then the Lady Ochiba would be eliminated in retaliation by Toranaga’s sons and the remaining Regents would be forced to move jointly against the Yoshi clan, who, now isolated, would be stamped out. Only then would the Heir’s succession be guaranteed and he, Ishido, would have done his duty to the Taikō.

  But the blow did not come. At the last moment Usagi came to his senses and tremulously sheathed the sword.

  “Your pardon, Lord Toranaga,” he said, kneeling abjectly. “I could not bear the shame of—of having you hear such—such insults. I ask permission—I apologize and—I ask permission to commit seppuku immediately for I cannot live with this shame.”

  Though Toranaga had remained still, he had been ready to intercept the blow and he knew Hiro-matsu was ready and that others would have been ready also, and that probably Ishido would only have been wounded. He understood, too, why Ishido had been so insulting and inflammatory. I will repay you with an enormity of interest, Ishido, he promised silently.

  Toranaga gave his attention to the kneeling youth. “How dare you imply that anything Lord Ishido said was meant in any way as an insult to me. Of course he would never be so impolite. How dare you listen to conversations that do not concern you. No, you will not be allowed to commit seppuku. That’s an honor. You have no honor and no self-discipline. You will be crucified like a common criminal today. Your swords will be broken and buried in the eta village. Your son will be buried in the eta village. You head will be put on a spike for all the population to jeer at with a sign on it: ‘This man was born samurai by mistake. His name has ceased to be!’”

  With a supreme effort Usagi controlled his breathing but the sweat dripped and the shame of it tortured him. He bowed to Toranaga, accepting his fate with outward calm.

  Hiro-matsu walked forward and tore both swords from his grandson-in-law’s belt.

  “Lord Toranaga,” he said gravely, “with your permission I will personally see that your orders are carried out.”

  Toranaga nodded.

  The youth bowed a last time then began to get up, but Hiro-matsu pushed him back on the floor. “Samurai walk,” he said. “So do men. But you’re neither. You will crawl to your death.”

  Silently Usagi obeyed.

  And all in the room were warmed by the strength of the youth’s self-discipline now, and the measure of his courage. He will be reborn samurai, they told themselves contentedly.


Series Navigation<< CHAPTER 11 : Part 2 – ShogunCHAPTER 13 : Part 1 – Shogun >>

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

error: Content is protected !!