Wednesday, March 04, 2015

The Age Of Ambition: Katsuno's Revenge, Part 1


I, Mitsubishi Jiro, was never part of the inner circle of the great warlord Oda Nobunaga. At least not in the discussing of decisions. But I can say I was witness as his favored guard. I don't have the breadth of mind to know how truly I speak but I would be hard pressed to think of another who saw as many sides of my master as I. I have written of my sworn allegiance to him who saw in me what I had failed to see in myself. To a man like Oda, that was much closer than a blood tie, to be birds of a feather.

Because of the spiritual ties, the feeling was euphoric in camp when the high council gathered. Like-minded yet strongly different they were. The air came alive with sparkling energy, and there was a sense of being on the brink of something great yet still undefined. How high would the stars soar? Are not the eyes of history on our every decision? I could not imagine the appeal of another clan compared to ours! The excitement of those times will never be matched again.

So while I reveled in the totality of the vision of my master - he who saw beyond the horizon - so too did I learn of our Lord's genius even in the dealings of the continual intrigues inside Azuchi castle, the masterpiece Oda constructed from where to run his operations. He created an entire city around it and thus set a precedent to be followed by the other clans. The higher one's house on the hill on which the castle was built the higher one's status. But the fight for status was waged within the castle compound as well!


As I've said before, I was not a man of ambition (which was considered almost a character flaw during this Age Of War, Sengoku Jidai). And as I've also said before, I saw many men reach beyond their grasp only to fall from the sky to a deserved grave. They sneered at my perceived cowardice. I sneered at their lack of peace. In fact, my lord once spoke of my inner peace as a rock which a good builder can use. Any lingering doubts I had at that point were gone forever.

Many volumes could be written of the various castle intrigues! I'm sure for every intrigue I knew of a dozen more existed that never made the light of day. What the gods must have seen, they who can see all! Did we appear as a thousand scheming ants, crawling over one another in constant agitation? Do the players feel shame in the afterlife? Who's to know? What I do know is great tragedy was wrought by these dealings, stories that haunt and scar me to this day; acts without wisdom. Anger leads to loss, as the proverb says.

Katsuno was a maid-of-honor to Lady Oda, but her grace and charm and beauty was unmatched among the other maids. It must have been part of the times for men to so obsess as they did. I noticed a correlation between men who reached for positions beyond them also reached for women beyond them. I knew no matter how clever or honest she may be, an object of desire like Katsuno would end in heartbreak. And sure enough, out came the daggers! (literally)


Sakuma was a councillor to the Asano clan, in-laws of Lord Oda. He leveraged this position to its full extant, worming his way into our castle. (How was he to counsel the Asanos from here??) His companion in treachery was the hag Tora-no-Kata, head of Lady Oda's maids-of-honor. To his great credit, my master never showed anything but disdain for either one yet because of the pain of politics never interceded to have them removed. Certainly if the pair ever went too far Lord Oda would ban them - or worse - without hesitation. But their kind knew exactly how far they could go to keep their wretched lives alive.

Of all the things a warlord must deal with, from plans to tactics, from logistics to rival clans, politics for me would be the most unsolvable burden. How could one ever hope to master such a beast! But our lord enjoyed it as a game, it seemed, to be solved like a chess match. Thank the gods there are those who can penetrate that dark, undecipherable maze. In the Age of Ambition any place can be a battlefield.

Crazy as it seems, councillor Sakuma had his eye on Katsuno, despite his advanced age and advanced degree of decayed soul. When word came through the young Asano lord Hiyachi was to be promoted over Sakuma (at least Hiyachi stayed in his own damn castle!) and as part of the deal to strengthen ties between the clans the great Katsuno was to marry Hiyachi as part of the promotion. This drove Sakuma wild with jealous rage - something which I think was only inflamed further by the ambitious times of everyone wanting everything.


It was Tora-no-Kata who calmed him down - but only to effect her evil plan! Hiyachi was known for his heroic nature. For this, Tora-no-Kata laid the perfect trap. Setting fire to Hiyachi's home when he sure to be at the castle, Hiyachi would surely run into the burning abode to check if anyone was inside and also to save ancient family heirlooms. There Sakuma would wait for him, stab him, and leave him to die as a burn victim, no one the wiser. Brilliant!

But the hothead Sakuma used his own dagger to do the killing and when a falling beam hit his hand after the deed was done he was unable to recover the weapon from beneath the burning wood. The plan ruined, he fled back to the Asano clan for sanctuary. Katsuno had fallen deeply in love with Hiyachi and was beside herself with grief. Lady Oda was also outraged at the despair of one her maids-of-honor and took the murder as an insult. My master, for his part, was glad to see the backside of Sakuma.

Lady Oda wanted Sakuma turned over to her, however, and this Lord Oda could not ignore. The Asano clan refused to send him back, however. Marriage ties were often used to help forge ties between clans but that does not mean all enmity was gone. The Asanos had resentment over my lord's previous high hand and they thoroughly enjoyed giving him this snub. Such a complicated knot. My master certainly could not wage war on an ally so he left it at that - even with Lady Oda still fuming. Not a calculation I'd like to live with!


Lord Oda did not seem surprised when Katsuno and Lady Oda came to him asking to allow Katsuno to take personal revenge. Sometimes I got the feeling he'd arranged these events. But I'll never forget what he said to her.

"No! No one may ever take personal revenge. This is not the time for that kind of luxury and may never be. Are you the only one who's been hurt in this mad world? Are you the only one who's felt the sting of injustice? Think of the peasants whose food is taken and lives trampled by the armies. Are we to pursue every person's revenge or pursue the unification of our glorious nation to end these burdens?"

Katsuno bowed low to the floor in shame. She was surprised to find the burning sensation leave her heart, something she thought impossible for life. She was grateful, yet empty. Then my master continued.

"But I will grant you a commission. Sakuma is a festering sore who must be purged. For the good of the whole and to end his own misery of a cowardly life, I give you his life, Katsuno. I would be grateful if you would implement the sword of justice for me."

In a sight I'll never forget, Katsuno's trembling head slowly looked up in disbelief, tears streaming down her face. As her eyes froze into a cold steadiness I knew Sakuma was a dead man. I should have known Lord Oda was not going to let the Asano snub slide by! What happened afterwards became legend.


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