Disciple of Peperna
- May 20, 2004
Onin 1 (1467)
The war room at the Hosokawa estate, a long rectangle with banners from several allied clans on the walls, was filled with the quiet whispers of two samurai kneeling before an empty wooden throne. None wore armor, nor the silk that might have identified them as courtiers or foreigners. Their lord had little use for either. Their katanas, five feet long and curved, lay to their left with hilts facing the chair.
The one to the left smelt of the sea. His indifferent attention to cleanliness in a land that highly prized this virtue earned many comments behind his back. None could question his courage however, and Hosokawa Tenkai had commanded the clan's tiny navy (a dozen small sailing and oared craft meant to combat smugglers) for ten years. Tall and lean with dark eyes, he dressed in his best kimono, a coarse turtle green belted by a wide obi at the waist.
He may look the part, but he still stinks, reflected his companion. Hosokawa Sujin was Tenkai's junior by over a decade, a small but powerful man with thick muscles. He, too, wore his best clothing. Fierce eyes examined the room every few seconds as if half expecting an attack. The last several months of cat-and-mouse with the Yamana clan would make anyone jumpy.
“What was that, Tenkai-san?” he asked.
“I said, I wonder what keeps our lord. This is unlike him.”
“Have you not heard? He is...” Sujin clamped his mouth shut as the paper door slid open behind them. He prostrated himself, forehead touching the floor.
Hosokawa Katsumoto, kanrei (deputy) to the shogun, strode between his advisors. Like the others he wore no armor, but a flowing gold kimono with the family symbol sewn across the back of his shoulders. Age may have stolen some of his strength, but the essential vitality of the kanrei remained undiminished. Thinning grey hair, tied in a samurai's knot, framed a hard face and sparking brown eyes. He crossed the room rapidly. Like the wind, he had yet to encounter an obstacle he couldn't go around or through, and the handful of steps to his throne presented no challenge.
He turned and sat. His men didn't dare to look up.
The seaman rose to his knees, though he still didn't meet his gaze. “We succeeded, my lord.”
Katsumoto jut his chin out. “Of course you did. Details?”
“Per your instructions, my lord, I took those ships you designated for Kyoto's defense south and west towards Yamana's coast. As suspected, he has had trouble moving food across land to feed his soldiers here. We found five vessels outfitting with rice and fish.”
“Not precisely, my lord. You desired results, so we waited for nightfall and landed, using the moon and town lights to guide our way. There I had men kill those guarding the docks and set them on fire.”
“Your men killed samurai?” Katsumoto wasn't squeamish on the matter, but the idea of heimin killing their betters still rankled.
“No, my lord. Goyoukiki.”
Sujin frowned. It seemed strange the Yamana would use commoners to protect a vital shipment, even police assistants. Then again, they had upwards of forty thousand men near Kyoto. Perhaps that was all they could spare?
“And so you left. Their ships burned, I take it? Good.” Katsumoto turned to the deputy commander of his armies in Kyoto. “Sujin?”
“Your attack met with similar success, or you would not be here. Am I correct?”
“Hai!” Sujin looked up for a second, then flinched at his lord's glare. “-sama, I personally led the attack on Yamana Isshiki's residence. He was not home, fortunately.”
“Fortunately?” Katsumoto demanded, leaning forward.
The commander stuttered. “It...it is not...it would not be honorable to burn a samurai in his house.”
“And honor is a great thing, no doubt.” He relaxed and gestured with one hand. “Continue.”
“There were several retainers. We killed them all then fired the house.”
“Were you seen?”
“Not to my knowledge,” Sujin replied. “As you asked, however, we carried no identifying marks. We were as ronin.”
“Good,” Katsumoto purred. “Let that old fool speculate. It will do him no good.”
A rivalry between Yamana Souzen, the 'Red Monk', and his Hosokawa son-in-law intensified over the past several years. The shogun, Ashikaga Yoshimasa, initially named his brother as heir. Later his wife bore a son. As Katsumoto already had a close relationship with Yoshimi, he supported the brother's efforts to inherit. Yamana, seeing a chance to deal with his rival, backed the child. For months their armies poised in and around Kyoto mostly glaring at each other. Yoshimasa looked up from his paintings and plans for a 'Silver Pavilion' to promise to declare the man who started the fighting a rebel.
This worried Sujin. Being branded an outlaw, a fate worse than death in the Bushido code, would cost his family many retainers as they defected, fled or commited seppuku. Further the bakufu, the shogun's officers and their armies, couldn't be underestimated.
The young samurai had his doubts, but he kept them to himself. His lord didn't like questions.
As fate had it, however, Katsumoto was in a talkative mood. “I have already complained to Yoshimasa-sama about Souzen's ruthless attacks on my holdings.”
“Attacks, my lord?” Sujin asked, then regretted it.
“Attacks, Sujin. Do you know why Souzen is called the Red Monk? It is because of his temper. He will not let either of your actions go unavenged. He will retaliate quickly bringing truth to my words. As there is no conclusive evidence that Hosokawa men were behind your attacks, this means he will break the truce first.”
Tenkai smiled. “A daring plan, -sama.”
The daimyo nodded. “See to your ships. I would speak to Sujin alone.”
“Hai, -sama.” The seamen pressed his forehead to the ground, then crawled backwards several paces with his sword. Once a respectful distance away he rose, bowed and left.
“Sujin. The fighting will intensify here very shortly. I need to know you are with me.”
The commander paled. “I am your servant, -sama.”
“You disagree with my tactics.”
“And yet you prefer that the commander of Yamana's forces was not at home. I wanted him dead.”
Sujin pressed his forehead to the floor. “I'm sorry, -sama!”
“With Isshiki gone, they would be led by the Monk himself and that child of his. A direct attack would have carried the city and done away with him and his followers.”
“I have failed you!”
“Hai.” Katsumoto rose.
“I...” A desperate thought filled the young warrior's mind. His hands twitched at either side of his head. “I wish to...”
Sujin looked up, startled. Had he failed that badly? Would he be cast out to wander forever?
The daimyo shook his head. “I sent you to get rid of their general. You will not deprive me of mine.”
“But I failed.”
“Hai. I have told you honor is a great thing, Sujin. If you are to continue, you must understand it is not the only thing. We are at war. The Yamana are worth little, and that artist disguised as our shogun is worth even less. It is up to the Hosokawa to ensure the dignity of the emperor and the strength of the empire by any means necessary. If it means killing their men while they sleep or even burning Kyoto to the ground, then that is what I'll order. I need to know if you will obey.”
Sujin's reply was cut off by an urgent scratching at the paper door. It slid back. One of the daimyo's retainers took three agitated steps forward, then dropped to hands and knees well behind the general.
“What is it?” Katsumoto demanded.
“It is Sujin-sama's house, my lord! It is on fire!”
Sujin gaped, but looked away at his daimyo's sharp glare.
“It has begun. See to the men.”
The general crawled backwards, rose and bowed.
“Do not fail me again.”