Wednesday, March 04, 2015

The Age Of Ambition: Katsuno's Revenge, Part 2

Katsuno made her way to the Asano lands disguised as a lowly servant, knowing her grace and looks would eventually bring her into the castle. Then, on celebration day when all the samurai would be on parade in the courtyard, she knew Sakuma would appear. And so he did. When his turn came to be close to the dais, Katsuno lunged using the same dagger as used on Hiyachi, thrusting it into Sakuma's throat, killing him before the entire clan. Everyone was amazed by her demeanor, as if she were gutting a fish.

Oda was greatly delighted by the story, never expecting the extra piece of public humiliation. It may have seemed callous for him to be so joyful knowing it meant the end of Katsuno's life but he'd already correctly determined she was ready to die, her life having ended with Hiyachi's death. My master knew breath without meaning was a death without dreaming. But the story did not end there - politics a demon with many twists and turns!

Many in the Asano clan also wanted Sakuma killed for what he did to the beloved Hiyachi. Sakuma was only kept alive to spite Oda. Lady Asano berated Katsuno for wanting to die when so young. Hers was a life worth living, to continue her family name, to fulfill her promise. Katsuno, though I do not think fully, accepted this. But how to save her? Having killed a clan samurai, Lord Asano had no choice but to then kill Katsuno. The question was secretly posed to my master.

Lord Oda vexed his brow as he sometimes does in a game of Go. He had not planned beyond this point and now he must find a solution. It wasn't until that night he discovered an answer (solutions often came to him in bed at night). "Let her escape to the Tokugawa." Tokugawa Iyeyasu was Oda's strongest ally. His visits were electrifying as he too understood the times and was one whose judgement could be trusted absolutely. I could see some wisdom in sending Katsuno there but to me it only delayed the inevitable. The Asano demands would have to be met to protect their honor no matter where she was sent.

While our Oda clan was the closest ally to the Tokugawa clan the Asanos had no ties whatsoever and would be forced to come to my lord to retrieve Katsuno. Why Oda would want to put himself in that position I do not know. I do know he wished it. It was Sakuma's brother who arrived with imperious and strident demands for Oda's help in this matter. As he spoke, I almost smiled imagining my master's no-doubt spurious reply tearing apart any logic presented by this horrid man. Instead, I got this:

"It will be my pleasure and honor to assist the Asano clan in this matter. You, as Sukama's brother, will write the plea yourself, in your own words, not mine, leaving you no doubt this will be carried out with the strongest of intent."

The response, I think, stunned even the brother, who then humbly backed away unable to thank my lord enough and vowing that the Asano clan would not forget this and old debts would be considered repaid. I thought: so that was my master's aim, to improve relations with the Asano. Oda smirked with a twinkle in his eye after the room was empty. All the time I'd been expecting him to explode in anger. A few days later came a messenger from Iyeyasu Tokugawa. It read:

"I am sorry, but I cannot consent. Katsuno is a heroine, and such a woman is rarely found in Japan. To speak frankly, Sakuma did not behave with propriety. I understand that because Katsuno would have nothing to do with him, and because Hiyachi, to whom she was engaged, was a favorite with his lord, Sakuma, out of a mean jealousy unworthy of a samurai, caused Hiyachi's house to be set on fire and also himself to be assassinated.
"In my opinion - in the opinion of all right-minded men - Sakuma richly deserved his fate, and it was fitting that he should die as he did. What can his brother urge in extenuation of this crime? His demand is preposterous! Think of Katsuno! For the sake of a man to whom she was merely betrothed, she boldly avenged his death, stabbing a strong warrior in the midst of a large concourse. What courage! It would put many men to shame!
"And this heroic woman comes to me for protection, honoring me by her confidence! Do you imagine I will give her up? Never! Tell your lord that Iyeyasu is not one to betray his trust, and that he emphatically refuses to deliver up this brave woman to her enemies."
The message was read aloud to both Oda and Sakuma's brother. My lord remained impassive as if he heard nothing at all, but the brother sat as a roasting pig, burned by truths he could not escape. Knowing there was no honorable reply, my lord asked, "How then shall I reply?" Even my unsophisticated eyes knew he was asking if the brother wanted to shame himself by pressing further. The brother stormed off. My mind was swirling. My lord was laughing.

As much as I hate it, my face must have betrayed my emotions. Lord Oda called me over.

"Jiro! Who could have foreseen such a response from Iyeyasu?"

Wrongly thinking he needed political cover for his defeat I heartily replied, "No one, sir!"

"We can't win them all. Remember that." I bowed in response as he retired to his room. Oda paused, however, just short of the sliding screen. "We must hope there are no stray arrows from this battle."


EPILOGUE: The trick I learned was to assess the ending to understand the beginning. What did Lord Oda get from all this? The death of a man he despised but could not easily remove. He sanctioned Katsuno's revenge to take the burden off of her and gain her lifelong loyalty. He strengthened ties with the Asano while ensuring they would never go behind his back to ally with the Tokugawa. Katsuno got her life. My lord came out smelling like a rose!

But of course he'd expected Tokugawa to "outsmart" him. Lord Oda was a master at playing the helpless fool when it suited him. But as he feared, a stray arrow had been shot: Tora-no-Kata. This poisoned tongue found her way to the Tokugawa province, pretending to be an emissary with news. She took Katsuno aside, whispering, "There will be war from the Asano against the Tokugawa over you. Many lives will be lost. Lord Oda asked if not removing one life would be better than losing many in a needless battle?" Katsuno readily agreed and was dead by her own hand by morning.

Tora-no-Kata's role in devising the death of Hiyachi remained hidden at that time. But this deed she did not escape and Lord Oda had her boiled alive in the middle of the castle compound for everyone to hear her screams of agony. In this way he hoped to discourage further foul scheming.

Based on the short story "Katsuno's Revenge"

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